BAGHDAD -- Ready. Set. Cook.

With only an hour to prepare, cook and display a top-notch meal, four teams of Soldiers and Kellogg Brown & Root employees from Victory Base Complex raced around the kitchen at the Sports Oasis dining facility on Camp Victory, Jan. 30. The teams were participating in the fourth Iron Chef competition, which began here in June 2009.

Not only does the competition give the participants a chance to show their creative side, but also serves as a way to enhance their culinary skills, said Staff Sgt. Deneva Payne, food service specialist and administration noncommissioned officer with Headquarters Support Company, I Corps.

"For the Soldiers, it's about owning their skills and maintaining teamwork. Since KBR is contracted to run our dining facilities, it gives the Soldiers a chance to express their creativity," said Payne, the competition's organizer, who hails from Memphis, Tenn.

Composed of five Soldiers and KBR employees, each team was given a tray of ingredients, but they were not required to use every ingredient.

"They had to at least use one meat," Payne said. "It's better if they use all of them, so there is more of a variety but it didn't count against them if they had some things left over."

Ingredients included ham, chicken, salmon, bell peppers, potatoes and spices.

At the mention of the word "GO", madness overtook the kitchen; each team raced their trays back to the preparing tables to see what they had to work with.

"We had everything available to us. I was happy with all the ingredients, but we just couldn't figure out how to use the spaghetti noodles," said I Corps Soldier Sgt. Shelvin Jackson Jr., a food service specialist representing the Sports Oasis DFAC. This is the first Iron Chef Jackson, a Port Arthur, Texas native, has participated in.

As the teams began chopping vegetables, peeling potatoes and boiling their water the kitchen's temperature was beginning to rise.

Then, without warning, the kitchen lost power. The cooks stayed on track, keeping their pace while still maintaining safety around dimly lit work areas.

"I think the hardest part have been keeping everyone focused," Jackson said. "No matter what happened, we had to keep working as a team."

Teamwork was evident throughout the competition, one of the goals Payne had hoped for in the planning phases of the event.

"We had the teamwork there. Everyone has their own ideas, but you have to come together as a team and do what works best," Jackson said.

After about 15 minutes, power was restored and cheers echoed throughout the kitchen. By this time, the kitchen had filled with steam, sounds of sizzling vegetables and the distinct smell of a home-cooked meal.

As time ticked away, senior leaders from each Soldier's respective unit paced up and down the aisles, feverishly writing down notes on their judging papers.

"THIRTEEN MINUTES REMAINING!"

Looks of panic had spread across the participants faces as time came to a close. Each team had to have their plates presented to the judges before the close of the hour. Although all teams made the hour deadline, it was a close call for some.

With dishes of baked chicken, rice, salmon laid out, teams were asked to leave the area while the judges tasted their meals. Each team broke off and the self-critiquing began. "We should have done this..." or "I think we did great with..."

It was up to the judges now.

First Sgt. Donald Robertson, I Corps' HSC first sergeant and judge, said he couldn't stay away from the grilled salmon and the fried cheesecake, a trademark of fellow Fort Lewis unit 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry's DFAC, the Raider Inn.

"This was a great way for the Soldiers to show their culinary art skills and operate in a different environment that what they are use to," Robertson, of Monroe, Ga., said.

After anxiously waiting for the judge's tallies, the teams were brought forward to hear the winner.

Taking the title and trophy away from the I Corps team, Camp Liberty's Raider Inn DFAC took the title.

Although this is the last competition for the I Corps DFAC team, the competition will carry on when they redeploy in the upcoming weeks.

"We have really appreciated the support, and we are glad that this can continue on for other Soldiers when we leave here," Payne said.

Page last updated Sun January 31st, 2010 at 09:38