Standing tall and cooking good: U.S. Army Africa Soldier takes top honors in 2009 Culinary Arts Comp
December 1, 2009
VICENZA, Italy - There are plenty of top-notch dining facilities in the Army, but only one is rated the best in Europe and that establishment, nestled in the heart of Northern Italy, is also home to some of the finest culinary arts specialists the Army has to offer - with a wall of trophies and lines of satisfied diners to prove it.
The South of the Alps dining facility was put to the test again in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Nov. 5-13, when more than 30 competitors from six major garrisons competed in this year's Installation Management Command and U.S. Army Europe Culinary Arts Competition.
The team from Vicenza walked away from the competition with an armful of medals - including the trophy for best team, best chef and 16 individual gold, silver, and bronze medals.
Having just returned from Grafenwoehr, Sgt. Ken D. Turman II, U.S. Army Africa's subsistence NCO and winner of this year's prestigious Best Chef of the Year award, took time out of his busy schedule to demonstrate what it takes to prepare an award-winning entrAfAe.
"If you've ever served in the military, you know how important chow is to the daily life of our Soldiers," Truman said while prepping a cornucopia of fresh meat and vegetables. "A warm, well-prepared meal is often the highlight of their day - both here or in the field."
With a container of sautAfAed onions in one hand and a mixing bowl full of flour and spice in the other, Turman set to work demonstrating what it takes to be top chef.
Discussing his recent victory, Turman offers this bit of sage advice, "The key to success in the kitchen boils down to three ingredients - planning, passion and hard work."
Nowhere is that recipe for success more evident than the behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle of an Army dining facility.
Working alongside Chef Vincenzo Esposito, one of Turman's team-mates and fellow gold medalist, Turman skillfully guides his knife through a fresh beef tenderloin - neatly slicing it into three even cuts of filet mignon.
Showing just what it takes to be part of an award-winning team, Esposito moves with ease to the stove and gently places the filets onto a piping hot grill-pan, while Turman drops homemade onion rings into a nearby fryer - these bite-sized morsels pack a mouthful of flavor and will later serve as a garnish for the main course.
Both chefs then turn to decorating three plates with basil-infused olive oil and a mouth-watering, Chianti-garlic sauce.
It's that magic moment in the kitchen when one meal has been served and chefs are busy preparing for the next.
When asked what it takes to be a top chef, Turman answers with a sense of confidence, "After putting in a double shift at the dining facility, you need to go home and study your recipe books, practice with your family or friends and seek out mentors who can help improve your skills."
Soldiers can have a long memory when it comes to food. While old veterans might not remember their drill sergeant's name or the maximum effective range of their assigned weapon, they always seem to recall the quality and quantity of food they received in the chow line. If you don't believe it, just ask any old timer to describe the contents of their C-ration... and don't be surprised when they answer, "the cigarettes and 'P-38' can-opener were good, the food was not."
Fortunately C-rations are not on today's menu.
As nearby chefs gather around to watch Turman 'plate' the finished product, Esposito whips together a hot salad of sautAfAed Savoy and Bok Choy cabbage.
The smell of victory is in the air
Done to perfection, the fillets make their way to each of the decorated plates. The hefty cuts of meat are the centerpiece of Turman's entrAfAe and set the stage for a dining experience sure to please any discerning palate.
In addition to the grilled filet mignon, Turman's award-winning, culinary creation consists of home-grown polenta, Esposito's hot cabbage salad and a tasty garnish of spicy, homemade onion rings.
One bite, and there's no question why Turman is this year's top chef.
But even after the last bite melts in your mouth and the tables are cleared, the work for Sgt. Turman isn't over - not by a long shot.
With a victory in Europe under his belt, he will now go on to compete in the 34th Annual U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Va., against the other regional winners from around the world.
"I think we were better prepared than any other team at the Grafenwoehr competition," Turman said. "We are going to need that same level of preparation, passion and hard work to bring home the gold from Fort Lee."