Culinary experts demonstrate flare for flavor, vie for title of division Iron Chefs
May 21, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 21, 2012) -- Some of the installation's top food service experts were in a frenzy here May 9, slicing, dicing and sautéing in hopes of earning the title of "Iron Chef."
Sixteen chefs representing all six of the 10th Mountain Division's brigades, including 4th Brigade Combat Team from Fort Polk, La.; a local eatery; and a "mystery team" competed in the event. Eight two-person teams were instructed to prepare a main dish and two accompanying dishes, which could be a salad, appetizer or dessert.
Although the event was the third Iron Chef Competition held at Fort Drum, this year's competition was the largest, according to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Felipe Cardozo, division command food service technician.
"This is the first time (almost the) whole division (is home)," he added. "Fort Polk is represented here for the first time, as well as two (non-food service) Soldiers from the (Special General Staff) office and civilian chefs from Savory Downtown-Best Western Carriage House."
The one requirement was to pick two protein items from a list of four less-traditional meats -- rattlesnake, venison, rabbit and squab. The teams had one hour to prepare a menu before each began working to create the most delicious fare.
"For the Soldiers, it's an honor for their managers to choose them to compete and represent their brigades," Cardozo said.
"We had a full pantry for them. They can choose anything they want, in addition to the two mandatory proteins," he added.
Four judges representing division and garrison leadership had the arduous task of sampling eight full meals during the event. Col. Erik Peterson, division chief of staff; Lt. Col. Timothy White, division logistics office (G-4); Division Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt and Mike Levesque, director of logistics, had an opportunity to ask each team questions about each course, ingredients used and their culinary experience.
"Our food service professionals play a very important role in our organization," Peterson said. "You're Soldiers, you're part of the team and you contribute to the wellness, health, strength and morale, and overall effectiveness of the force.
"Competition is part of who we are," he continued. "This (profession) we've undertaken is a contact sport. We gain a great deal from challenging one another and aspiring to be the best in our fields. I appreciate you all bringing your best game to this competition."
Peterson also thanked Jay Baytos and Mike Auricchio from Savory Downtown for participating in the event.
"It's important for us, as members of the North Country, to share with our neighbors," he added. "We glean a great deal from the support of our friends, neighbors and hosts in the North Country. That's part of the strength of the 10th Mountain Division."
Merritt also said that he was honored to have the Soldiers and community members there.
"This event is about professionalism (and) team building," he said. "We have a wide variety (of culinary experts) who brought their professionalism into this competition."
Some of the teams recently returned from deployment, Merritt said, adding that food service Soldiers do a lot more than cook downrange.
"We know that we can put a rifle in your hand or a spoon in your hand," he noted. "This was a tight, tough, close competition."
In the end, the judges named Sgt. Sean Wroten and Spc. Maria Sampang from 1st Brigade Combat Team as this year's Iron Chefs, for their Southwestern-style rattlesnake and beef with vegetables in a tortilla bowl.
"It's awesome," Wroten said. "It feels good. The whole competition, I wasn't really sure where we stood. It was really up in the air."
Sgt. Marpue Green and Spc. Karmesha Mason from 4th BCT were named runners-up for their Southwestern-style squab and dirty rice with venison.
Green said she and her teammate were selected because of their cooking skills and passion for culinary arts.
"We wanted to bring a little Southern flavor to the North Country with dirty rice and a sweet potato bread pudding," she explained. "It feels good that (we were included) and they didn't forget about us. We're still part of the team. We're honored to be here and work with our other division Soldiers."
"It feels good to win, but it feels good to be number two, too," she said. "It's a good feeling."
-- Sgt. Sean Wroten and Spc. Maria Sampang, 1st BCT;
-- Sgt. Laura Graham and Pfc. Minerva Maldonado, 2nd BCT;
-- Sgt. Brandon White and Spc. Jennifer Rodriguez, 3rd BCT;
-- Sgt. Marpue Green and Spc. Karmesha Mason, 4th BCT;
-- Staff Sgt. Julio Quintanilla and Pfc. Marie Espinal, 10th Sustainment Brigade, and Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Division;
-- Sgt. Maurice Jordan and Spc. Avril Robinson, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade;
-- Capt. Jennifer Lebron and Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Williams, HHBN "mystery team"; and
-- Jay Baytos and Mike Auricchio, Savory Downtown / Best Western Carriage House.