Kitchen heat: top military chefs battle in annual cook-off
March 12, 2013
By Amy Perry
FORT LEE, Va. (March 7, 2013) -- Eighteen military chefs got the 38th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event sizzling Tuesday as they competed for Armed Forces Chef of the Year.
The competition -- which earns the top chef one of the most prestigious individual titles of the event -- pits the food-preparers against a mystery basket. They are required to cook a four-course meal for four people and do it all in four hours.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Charles Talley Jr., this year's coordinator for the event, said they played it safe with the baskets this year.
"We wanted to be more fiscally responsible," he said. "The baskets still had challenges."
Some of the items the chefs received were quail, scallops, whole flounder, rack of lamb, quinoa, cranberries, Edam cheese and white yams, among other ingredients.
"If I generated a mystery basket that had too many odd items, are they really going to be able to bring that back to their dining facility?" Talley asked. "You can get quail in a dining facility. You can get lamb or flounder. They aren't going to have escargot in a dining facility."
In the past, the competitors have received some odd items, and Sgt. 1st Class Motavia Alston, an independent competitor, said this year's mystery basket was a relief to see.
"Two years ago, I got frog legs in a mystery basket," he said. "This year, there was nothing like that. It was much easier."
Alston -- who has competed for several years -- said the event went a lot smoother for him this time.
"Each year, my game plan gets a lot better," he said. "Overall, I was pretty pleased with how everything came out. I wasn't late so that was the key thing."
Another participant who has competed for several years, finally achieved his goal here. Senior Chief Petty Officer Derrick Davenport, an enlisted aide for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, received the event's only gold medal. Although the official announcement of who won the title won't be made until March 15, Davenport is relieved his hard work has finally paid off.
"I felt like it was four years of preparation," he said, after seeing the medal tally. "It feels good -- it's a weight off my shoulders. It doesn't mean I'm going to stop competing, it just means I've reached a goal that I was striving for.
"I work with two previous winners of the Chef of the Year, so I always get a hard time from them," Davenport continued. "That was part of my motivation to do my best, not get so stressed and have some fun with cooking this year. "
During the event, he said he felt like he was doing better than he has in the past, although he was worried after receiving the critique from the judges.
"In the critique, the judges are very firm and let you know areas where you can improve, so I thought I didn't do as well as I thought I did," he said. "When I saw the gold medal (on the medal tally) there, I was shocked."
The competitive training event concludes with an award ceremony March 15, and public days will continue through March 13. The public is invited to the Post Field House, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., during the public viewing days to check out the military chefs in action.