OTF Soldier Story for March 21, 2011 - Spc. Marfel Ortiz-Brown
Current Unit: 2nd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division
Current Position: Food Service Specialist
Component: Active Army
Current Location: Fort Bragg, N.C.
Hometown: Boynton Beach, Fla.
Years of Service: 9
Earlier this month, Spc. Marfel Ortiz-Brown was one of 200 military chefs who put their cooking skills on display at the annual U.S. Army Culinary Competition in Fort Lee, Va. Despite being a freshman member of the Fort Bragg Culinary Team, she came home with three individual medals, including a bronze for her dessert skills.
But the competition wasn’t the first time her cooking was put to the test. Ortiz-Brown has deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan and while there, she was responsible for bringing a little piece of “home” to the Soldiers in her unit.
“It was very important for troop morale that the food we prepared tasted as close to homemade as possible,” she said. “I made sure that there was always a hot meal ready when my guys returned from a mission.”
Throughout the deployments, Ortiz-Brown made it a priority to keep all-American entrees on the menu, including chicken parmesan and occasionally steak, and on holidays, she worked extra hard to provide a taste of home for all of the Soldiers who were missing out on family celebrations.
“Although we were in Afghanistan for Thanksgiving, we made sure the Soldiers had turkey, mashed potatoes, fresh shrimp, corn on the cob, pies and cakes,” she said. “We hung a bunch of festive decorations in the dining tent to make it look nice and comfortable for the Soldiers. We wanted them to enjoy the holiday away from home.”
In addition to her cooking duties, Ortiz-Brown would often accompany her brigade on missions and had the opportunity to serve as a driver for patrols.
After returning from Afghanistan, she assumed cooking duties at Fort Bragg, and it was not long before her culinary skills were recognized. When trying out for a spot on the prestigious Fort Bragg Culinary Team, she had just one hour to prove herself to the team captain.
“I only had 60 minutes to prepare a dish in front of the team captain. I chose to make a lemon tart with a lemon meringue soufflé,” she said. “It didn’t go as well as I wanted it to, but they saw that I had solid cooking skills, and I ended up making the team.”
The Fort Bragg chefs practiced both individually and as a team to prepare for the U.S. Army Culinary Competition, and ultimately came home with the second-place title—losing to the Pentagon Culinary Team by just one point.
“I learned a lot from my teammates and other experienced chefs who had already competed at the U.S. Army Culinary Competition – it was truly an amazing experience,” she said.
Ortiz-Brown currently lives with her husband, also a Soldier, and daughter in the Fort Bragg, N.C. area. In the future, she hopes use the culinary skills she has gained in the Army to open up a bakery of her own.