Culinary warrior competition adds flavorful twist
August 29, 2012
BAMBERG, Germany -- Food service Soldiers from the 16th Sustainment Brigade faced off during a battle of wits, physical endurance and culinary skills Aug. 14-17 for a chance to become the next Culinary Warrior and Warrior Leader of the Year.
The competitor's skills were tested both inside and outside the kitchen with an M16 marksmanship range, an Army Physical Fitness Test, a cook-off and a formal military knowledge board. The purpose of the competition was not only to challenge the Soldiers but also to formally recognize them for their hard work.
This year's competition added a new twist to the traditional cook-off. The competitors were given Meals-Ready-to-Eat, the Army's pre-packaged meals and told to prepare a plate out of it.
They were allowed to use ingredients in the dining facility kitchen to enhance the meal and the plates were judged based on appearance, shape, color, temperature and flavor.
Sgt. Brian Norwood from the 1st Inland Cargo Transfer Company, 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and a native of Kingston, Jamaica, took home the title of Culinary Warrior Leader of the Year. Norwood prepared a meal from a cheese tortellini MRE and earned the second highest points for his creation.
"It was kind of a surprise that we had to do it because there's not much you can do with an MRE," said Norwood. "I decided to keep it vegetarian and just put some vegetables in it and a nice garnish on top to make it eye appealing. I added some green and red peppers and tomatoes for color with some shredded yellow and white cheese with parsley flakes on top."
"It was challenging," added Norwood. "It made you think. Instead of just following a recipe card you had to actually be creative."
Spc. Thomas Liebel, a food service specialist with the 16th Special Troops Battalion and a native of Buffalo, N.Y. is the new Culinary Warrior of the Year for the 16th Sust. Bde. Liebel was a hit with the judges because of his buffalo chicken dip for which he received the highest points.
Liebel said when he saw the buffalo chicken MRE he knew exactly what to do. He has made his creation at home many times but never with ingredients from an MRE. "I added cream cheese, ranch dressing, bleu cheese dressing and added a little more hot sauce to it," said Liebel. "Then I added the cheese sauce with jalapenos that comes with the MRE to the chicken dip and heated it up."
Liebel topped his plate with tortilla shells cut into quarters for dipping and a celery garnish and made a parfait out of the cookies and vanilla pudding for dessert.
"I was shocked because every time we've done this, my sergeants already had the ingredients laid out and then you pick a recipe card," said Liebel about the cook-off.
"I got a lot of feedback on it," added Liebel about his buffalo chicken dip. "(The judges) said when they ate my chicken dip it didn't taste like it came out of an MRE, which felt pretty good."
Master Sgt. Frederick Massey, the 16th Sust. Bde. senior food operations management noncommissioned officer, put the competition together and said he believes it is a morale booster for the Soldiers. "We get a lot of Soldiers that are young or new to a unit and they don't know what to expect. And you tell them, "I want you to go to a board and win the board," But for once, they get to study stuff that they don't know about, and that's always intriguing."
"My favorite part was the cook-off," said Liebel. "It's a surprise. I like being surprised. When you pick your food, you do not really know what you are going to be doing. Here's all your stuff, you've got this much time, now make something out of it."
Massey said he feels these competitions offer special importance for the food service Soldiers. "It's very important for our 92Gs to go to these boards and learn more about MOS related questions or the military in general because a lot of times people don't take the food operations personnel seriously," said Massey. "They are Soldiers first and they are cooks second."
It was Norwood's third time competing but said he wanted to keep trying until he got it right and encourages other Soldiers to do the same. "They should definitely do it. Even though they might be scared or nervous they should get the experience, and not give up."
"I liked the overall experience," said Liebel about the competition. "It's different. I like that they involve the cooks in these boards and they do more than just cooking. It shows that we can compete with all the other Soldiers, that we're not labeled as just cooks."
"I'm very proud of our winners today. I'm very proud of all of them," said Massey. "They did a great job. It just takes a little more practice. I want them to continue striving to be that number one culinary warrior and continue learning and taking care of our Soldiers. That's the biggest part."
Norwood and Liebel will compete in the 21st Theater Sustainment Command competition later this year.