Officers and Civilians Club executive chef Ben Howard celebrates a win in the beef brisket category at the 2010 WhistleStop with FMWR's Rocket City Grillers team.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The spirit of Ben Howard's grandmother lives on in the recipes of the Officers and Civilians Club.

As a child, Howard spent days in the kitchens of his mother and grandmother, mastering the Southern classics and taking note of the culinary dedication behind his grandmother's daily habit of making homemade soup. While his grandmother died this past Mother's Day, the love for cooking she instilled in her grandson continues to grow in the club's kitchen.

"It's something that comes naturally to me," Howard said. "I've been cooking my whole life and learned a lot from my mom and grandma. I've known I wanted to be a chef my whole life."
For the Alabama native, a career as a chef was put on hold while he worked as a professional mover and in retail sales. But when Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College, opened in Birmingham, Howard knew it was time to put the moving boxes down for good and follow his dreams.

"It's what I've always wanted to do," Howard said. "It's my calling."
Graduating at the top of his class, Howard returned to the Huntsville area after culinary school and took a job as a cheese specialist at the Fresh Market. When he saw an opening for an executive chef at the club, it was only a matter of time before the job was his.

"For once in my life I enjoy getting up and going to work every day," Howard said. "This is the most rewarding career I've ever had. The spectrum of the food here gives me the opportunity to showcase my talents and revert back to my childhood."

From German one day to filet mignon the next, Howard's schedule is rigorous, at times topping out at 100 hours a week to accommodate the various events on the Arsenal. Always up for a challenge, catering to the diverse tastes of his diners is his specialty.

"The smile on people's faces when they try my food," Howard said of the most rewarding aspect of the job. "The reward of someone eating your food and saying, 'Wow.' It's pretty much every chef's dream."

That dream can crumble with one poorly made brisket or schnitzel. Grateful for the members of the club, Howard recognizes that without their kudos, he would be out of a job.

"You're only as good as your next event," Howard said. "Everything you do has to be pristine. You can lose reputation at the snap of a finger. If everyone that leaves here has a happy impression, my job is done."

Howard's talent was honored at this year's WhistleStop with a first place finish in the brisket category. Howard and FMWR's Rocket City Grillers rocketed to the top of the category that 70 teams competed in. Out of 71 Kansas City Barbecue Society Teams, the team placed 27. The honor is Howard's first first-place barbecue finish.

The Rocket City Grillers' showing at WhistleStop is just the beginning of FMWR's presence throughout the competitive cooking circle. Howard and the team look to compete in five to six events a year to promote Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation and the resources it provides to the community.

"MWR really has a lot to offer," Howard said. "It's like a big family. We're not alone. We have all kinds of support from MWR."

The winning brisket will be making an appearance at the club in the weeks and months to come.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16