Sgt. Isaac Wilson and Spc. Cesar Espino, 75th Fires Brigade Soldiers from Fort Sill, prepare desserts for the field competition at the 37th Annual Culinary Arts Competition, Feb. 25 through March 9 at Fort Lee, Va.

FORT SILL, Okla. -- Military cooks from every branch met up from all over the world to compete in the military version of Iron Chef.

The U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Va. is the largest culinary competition in the United States.

The competition consists of more than 25 teams, 250 cooks competing in 750 events, and lasts for almost two weeks.

And, it is not just simply popping pre-made food in an oven and heating it up or serving 500 troops out of a containerized kitchen. The meal is served to 80 customers over a two-hour lunch period. This "Iron Chef" event expresses the abilities of each cook and cooking team in areas such as Best Team Exhibit; Best Exhibit; A Special Judges Award, Most Artistic Piece; Best Overall Table Exhibit in the Competition; Best Centerpiece in Ice; Field Cooking Team Competition; Junior Chef of the Year; Chef of the Year; National Culinary Champion of the United States Military; National Pastry Champion of the United States Military; and Installation of the Year.

The competition also helps military cooks improve the quality of food service and training. But first, it is a way to recognize excellence in the culinary arts.

Judging for this competition is incredibly tough. Judges are flown in from England, Germany and Sweden along with many other countries, and many of them belong to the American Culinary Federation and World Association of Chefs societies. With the judges having many years of experience between them, there was definitely a cultural flair to the competition.

Fort Sill has been competing for years and came out in excellent fashion by taking home 20 medals. The team was comprised of cooks from the 75th and 214th Fires Brigades, 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade, and Reynolds Army Community Hospital's dietitian.

Spc. Emmanualli Torres, a cook from 571st Forward Support Company, showed outstanding promise as an upcoming chef when he competed in the Junior Chef of the Year competition.

The junior chef had 90 minutes to prepare, cook, plate, and present his entrée. Torres has never competed before and only cooked food for Soldiers on Fort Sill. He showed his level of expertise by receiving great praise and a bronze medal from the judges.

"The smallest details determine the winners here," said Sgt. John Thomas, a member of the Fort Sill culinary team. "The judges want to see the cleanliness of your aspect, that all of your pieces are well put together, good variety, multiple kinds of cuts, clean lines and straight edges. Cleanliness of the plate is a big thing also. Really, the standard is to be perfect and then improve on it from there."

The competition guidelines for the Team Buffet/Cold Food event read as follows: "Every team must prepare a cold food buffet table (with) a minimum of seven mandatory entries, all with a common theme, and will showcase the team's ability to work together and produce a work of culinary art. These tables are the epitome of beauty, skill and perfection. Included are hors d' oeuvres, plated appetizers, plated desserts, buffet platters and dessert platters. This category demonstrates the differences between cookery and culinary art."

The Nutritional Hot Food challenge is a competition of the chefs having no idea of what they would be receiving to cook and had to go strictly with instinct and knowledge to prepare a two-course meal, having less than 750 calories, and in 90 minutes. Capt. Lisa Reid and Sgt. Isaac Wilson came home with a bronze medal for the event.

"This is one of those events where the stress can really bring you down," Thomas said. "That's why you have to work together to keep that motivation up. Appreciating those moments when you can step back and say 'I did an awesome job' is important also. And, the real payoff of a competition like this is that feeling of accomplishment when you're standing up there with your peers realizing what it means to be part of this team. It's definitely motivating because most of us walk away from this thinking how much more it will take to do better next year."

This competition is a way to showcase chefs' abilities and to learn new skills that will be taken back to their posts' dining facilities and used there. Alongside the trophies and medals that were won, some competitors received funding for credits at the Culinary Institute of America. It is the premier culinary arts institute and will only further the chef's abilities to prepare better meals for the troops.

Fort Sill's team learned many valuable tools for their trade and have their eye on the first place trophy next year.

Page last updated Thu March 29th, 2012 at 15:04