Top chefs add spice to menu for Division Families
February 2, 2011
CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea - Thai spiced soup with shrimp and cod, adobo chicken with lemon gravy and roasted vegetables over rice, topped-off with a slice of pomegranate mouse chocolate cake served with a tangerine and pineapple glaze and a butterfly wafer; a menu not typically found at an Army dining facility. These days, in Warrior Country, menus like this will be popping up all over as the Division's top chefs test their skills as they prepare for the Army-wide culinary competition at Ft. Lee, Virginia.
"Today we are practicing our menu for the field competition category of the big Army competition," said Sgt. David Allen, 2nd Infantry Division Culinary team captain.
The team served nearly 80 troops and Family members their Asian-themed dishes as a test of their ability to prepare a three-course meal for 80 people in less than three hours, at the Commanding Generals' Mess on Camp Red Cloud Jan. 18; something they will need to perfect in order to win the category.
The guests filled out judging sheets, which required them to grade the meals and give their comments.
"We'll take those comments and make our adjustments and continue to do this over and over again every Sunday until the competition," said Allen.
Some of the competitors were happy to simply have a tasty meal and couldn't bring themselves to say anything but good things.
"The fact that I didn't have to cook it, made it taste twice as good," said Randy Behr who took the team up on the offer for a free gourmet meal. "I just like food so, I was very pleased. And, I'm a health conscious kind of guy, so I liked the healthy foods."
The youngest diner at the test-dinner was 5-year-old Rebecca Shermer who thought the soup was "sort of spicy." She said she does sometimes like spicy food "like daddy's jalapeAfA+-o chips." But, it was the pink cake, shaped like a butterfly that won Rebecca's heart.
"This was a perfect way to practice doing a meal for so many people, while giving the Soldiers good food and giving us a chance to perfect our techniques," said Allen.
And this isn't the end of the free gourmet meals. "We are gonna do the full 80 meals every week. We have to for Ft. Lee," said Allen.
Allen has been to the competition twice before and says he thinks this team has a good chance of taking home some trophies and getting Soldiers certified in their craft.
"We have a long way to go, but we started earlier than the other teams I was on," he continued.
He says there is a lot of talent and a lot of drive among the 10-member team.
"Some of them have been doing this for years. And they live for it," Allen said.
Allen himself has been cooking since he was a kid alongside his dad, a former Army cook during the Korean War.
Allen says despite having several veteran chefs on the team who've made a living creating meals for executives and sports figures, they all still learn from each other, even the novice chefs.
The team members were chosen from DFACs across Warrior Country. Team organizer, Staff Sgt. Geoffrey Blanchette began the search for his top chefs in the summer by offering advanced culinary training every Sunday afternoon. The DFACs sent some of their best candidates, who then went through a two-week cooking boot camp, which culminated in an Iron Chef face-off, 2nd ID-style in December.
The Army-wide culinary competition takes place the first week in March.