FORT POLK, La. - Chefs from 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade combined to compete in a culinary-arts competition at Fort Lee, Va. in February and March.

The Fort Polk Culinary Team participated in Fort Lee's U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition, celebrating its 35th annual event this year. This year, the event featured 12 teams competing for the honor of Installation of the Year, which is open to all branches of the military that sent teams to Fort Lee for the competition.

The competition attracts some of the best culinary teams from across the world, so the Fort Polk team had their hands full. The Fort Polk team, which came together late last year, prepared for a few months with an 'Iron Chef' competition to simulate competing in the culinary competition. Seeing all the other experienced, veteran teams ready to compete, some of Fort Polk's culinary team members felt they were in over their heads.

"We are so new to it ( the competition)," said Pvt. Marcus Barnes, food service specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th BCT. "Most of us felt like we would lose due to our lack of experience."

Barnes said that although the team lacked experience, they did not lack the confidence to compete, producing a third place finish in the Installation of the Year contest.

"Each team member received individual medals during the competition," said Sgt. Lee Schiefelbein, food service specialist, Company E, 94th Brigade Support Battalion.

Barnes earned a bronze medal competing in the student skills competition. This event tests young chefs' basic culinary skills and their abilities to create a four-course meal.

To be eligible to compete in the overall Installation of the Year competition, culinary-arts teams had to compete in qualifying competitions while at Fort Lee, according to a U.S. Army Quartermaster School Web site. These qualifying competitions included the Armed Forces Chef of the Year, Armed Forces Junior Chef of the Year, Nutritional Hot food Challenge, Field Competition, Team Buffet Table, Practical and Contemporary Cooking, Student Team Skills Competition and the Culinary Knowledge Bowl.

Each team member gave their all during the competition, working long hours to get the job done. With the stakes high and the tasks difficult, the Soldiers found relief and satisfaction in completing their tasks and knowing the hard work they put into it.

"I worked 26 hours straight to set up the seafood platter display," said Sgt. Lee Schiefelbein, food service specialist, Co. E, 94th Brigade Support Battalion, commenting that the display consisted of a combination of meat, Hors d'oeuvres and dessert platters. "After working tough, long hours, to see the finished product made me feel good about my work."

The culinary-arts team had a tall order during each individual competition, such as the limited time they had to complete meals. The team had plenty of work space to accomplish the mission with their own kitchen, which is a classroom culinary Advanced Individual Training students use inside Fort Lee's McLaughlin Hall.

"The classroom came with 12 ovens, 12 stoves and 12 tables," said Schiefelbein. "We had all the equipment we needed."

During the competition, Fort Lee culinary-arts instructors dropped in to see how the teams were doing and to give them classes, such as how to "plate" a meal on platters for presentation to judges.

Judges used a standard-based point system to grade the teams and determine the winner. Food presentation started at 40 points before judges critiqued it. Just like the "Iron Chef" competitions at Fort Polk, each team had a time limit to prepare their meals for presentation. Judges also considered food preparation, cooks' sanitation and food platting. Impressing the judges was not easy. Even Fort Polk's culinary team captain, team founder and cooking instructor Green, noticed a change from when he last competed here.

"I last competed here in 2002," said Green. "A lot of things have changed - the wow factor for the judges, portion sizes, new trends, new recipes, etc ...."

However, one of the Fort Polk Soldiers quickly caught on to the changes. Spc. Kilani Velasco, food service specialist assigned to Company G, 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery, 4th BCT, earned a bronze medal in the 2010 U.S. Armed Forces Junior Chef of The Year Competition, which gave him confidence in knowing where he stands against his peers; confidence that he didn't have before this event.

"Finishing third, I underestimated myself. I didn't think I would 'medal up' (measure up) to others," said Velasco. "Winning the bronze medal gave me the confidence of knowing where I really am as a food service specialist."

The Fort Polk Culinary Arts Team, together since late last year, finished third out of 12 teams competing for Installation of the Year. Each Soldier who participated in an event medaled, which increases the exposure of Fort Polk and the Culinary Arts Team. The confidence each team member received from competing and achieving success on a big stage only fuels the fire for a return trip to next year's competition.

Page last updated Tue April 20th, 2010 at 12:18