Fort Lee, Va. (July 17, 2008) -- Sgt. Monique Sorrell wants to take her culinary skills up a notch.

"I'm trying to step up and learn a little more and retrain as well," said the Fort Shafter, Hawaii Soldier.

She's in the right place. Sorrell is one of 13 food service specialists from all five branches of the Armed Forces who are absorbing the first week of lessons of the Advanced Culinary Skills Training Course.

The course, taught at the Army Center for Excellence, Subsistence, Quartermaster Center and School, is in the fifth iteration this year and is considered the big leagues of military culinary training.

"It's a very challenging course," said Master Sgt. David Turcotte, noncommissioned officer in charge, Enlisted Aide Course, ACES. "It's set up to challenge people to come in and think about how they do things and different ways in doing them."

Turcotte, a certified executive chef with more than 20 years in military food service, said the aim of the course is not to teach new recipes, but to provide students with opportunities to learn and develop the various techniques used in cooking.

"We try to teach them how they can further develop what they learn into menus that they can use here (later in the course), in dining facilities and the houses that they'll work in as enlisted aides," he said. "It's less about the food you actually see on the plate and more about the methods that get you to that ... like searing, roasting and poaching."

Once food service personnel learn the intricacies of food preparation and cooking, said Turcotte, their abilities are enhanced.

"Once they learn the techniques, then they can follow almost any recipe at any level in any cookbook," he said.

The 25-day course covers subjects such as ice carving, nutrition, wines, sauces and Hors d'oeuvres.

At the end of the course, students apply all they've learned to a seven-course meal, complete with critiquing diners and a restaurant-like setting.

That's fine for Air Force Master Sgt. Lorie Kelly of Langley Air Force Base.
An enlisted aide for a four-star general, she has been in the Air Force 18 years but has logged only three years in food service. She said the course should help refine her skills.

"I'd hopefully like to boost my confidence in cooking," she said. "I want to take some of the techniques I learned back to my boss's house and help bring our entertainment level up a notch."

Kelly is one of two students who will go back to working in the home of a general officer. The course is a prerequisite to the Enlisted Aide Training Course, also taught at ACES. Enlisted aides are responsible for a myriad of tasks in the home of a general officer; to include cooking, security, preparation of uniforms and arrangements of social functions.

From a culinary perspective, Turcotte said the cooking skills of an enlisted aide are invaluable to general officers.

"Enlisted aides serve fine dining to general officers and those they host - foreign dignitaries, heads of state and their counterparts in foreign militaries," he said. "A lot of times a general officer would rather have a quality dinner in his house rather than bringing him to a restaurant downtown.

"It could be for security reasons, or it may be to entertain him in a more personalized environment. That's how they build bonds with their counterparts around the world. An enlisted aide plays a very big part in that."

Marine Sgt. Lisa Figueroa wants to play that big part. She is assigned to a dining facility at Fort Lee but has higher aspirations.

"I want to advance my culinary arts and become a general's aide," she said.

Sorrell, who participated in the Army Culinary Arts Competition held in March, just wants to get better at everything she does in the kitchen. She said she can't wait to get the part of the course that covers sauces.

"That's my weakness," she said, "and pastries."

At course's end, Sorrell will return to a dining facility at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, where her new-found skills will hopefully provide Soldiers with better "sauces and pastries." She is one of 11 military members in the current class who are assigned to dining facilities.