YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea - Food specialists stationed across the Korean peninsula took the heat of the kitchen during the Eighth Army Chef of the Quarter board Feb. 12 at K-16 Air Base, South Korea.

The board provided contenders a chance to showcase their skills and earn the respect of experienced culinary specialists. Competitors may have thought the two-part board was going to be simple and predictable, so organizers designed a portion of the competition that would test each Soldier's wits.

"The competitors came in thinking they would prepare their own recipes but we actually threw a mystery basket at them," said Sgt. 1st Class Jessica Bezanson, Eighth Army Food Service NCO.
The mystery basket consisted of chicken, calamari, mangos, cake box mix, apple sauce and other vegetables. The contestants were required to use all those ingredients to create three dishes.

"At first it was exciting, but towards the end, due to the time limit, it got a little hectic and I started to rush things," said Pvt. Pauline Wellsevans, the Soldier Chef of the Quarter winner. "This was also (my) first time ever making calamari, so that was a challenge."

Wellsevans also said that she gained confidence to try new things with her culinary skills after the experience.

For Sgt. Denita Thompson, the winner of the NCO Chef of the Quarter, winning the board was meaningful because it served as a personal validation that she can focus her efforts on culinary excellence while her Family is back in the United States. She credits her passion for the job as the reason why she succeeded over her competition.

According to the board members, holding competitions such as this is important for the participants and for dining facility patrons throughout Korea. Competitors create their own recipes that can be taken back to their respective dining facilities for implementation.

Master Sgt. Don Percy, 1st Signal Brigade chief food operations sergeant and member of the board, said the benefits of conducting competitions between cooks include honing individual skills and developing leadership qualities necessary to succeed in a multitude of environments. It also benefits those outside the kitchen.

"We are giving (Soldiers) better-quality food so they can go out and perform their daily mission at a higher standard," Percy said.

The board contenders were first selected by their respective brigades to compete at the board. The two-part board consisted of a morning and afternoon session. During the morning session, five members of the board asked various questions to the competitors about leadership, food service operations and the Soldier Athlete program. During the afternoon, the contestants prepared three dishes for the members of the board to judge.

The winners of the Eighth Army Chef of the Quarter board received a chef's knife and a nutrition cookbook from the Culinary Institute of America. They also set themselves apart from their peers for potential promotion and increased levels of responsibility.