By Jennifer Gunn, CASCOM PAOJune 30, 2016
FORT LEE, Va. - Food is among a very short list of items with the power to engage all five senses--sight, smell, sound, taste and touch--simultaneously.
"People eat with their eyes first," said Staff Sgt. Armando Hernandez, as he, along with his Advanced Culinary Skills Training Course classmates, was constructing a selection of hors d'oeuvres to kick off a round-the-globe end-of-course luncheon June 15 at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence.
The students in the culinary course ranged in experience from 20 years of civilian and military food service combined to less than two years' cooking experience. Their June 15 culinary exploration of the world was loosely based on the exploits of the fictional character James Bond, whose secret service code--007--echoes the class number for the military chefs who cooked and served the meal. The theme, "Travels with James Bond," set the tone for the menu, which was conceived, planned and executed completely by the 12 students in the course.
Among the seven courses, menu items included a chicken doner kabab, from Bond's travels to the Middle East in films such as "The Living Daylights" and "The Spy Who Loved Me;" a seafood-infused gazpacho, from his adventures to the Caribbean in "Dr. No" and his visit to the Orient in "Tomorrow Never Dies;" and Scottish lamb with goat cheese spätzle and caramelized onion, to illuminate Bond's Scottish heritage, as does the movie, "Skyfall."
After the meal, Brig. Gen. Rodney Fogg, the newly installed quartermaster general, observed some little touches that made the setting complete--like the black cloth napkins folded in the shape of a tuxedo jacket--as well as the creativity of the meal itself.
"I don't cook anything, so for me this was over-the-top amazing," Fogg said.
"This is the capstone event for the Advanced Culinary Skills Training Course," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jesse D. Ward about the luncheon. Ward is in charge of the Advanced Food Service Training Division at JCCoE. Over the course of five weeks, his students learn classical knife skills, how to perfect sauces and stock, meat fabrication--which is simply preparing a cut of meat for cooking--divining desserts and the ins and outs of menu preparation for up to 13 courses. Yes, 13 courses.
"When I get to the end of a [13-course] meal like this, what should I feel like?" NPR's Linda Wertheimer asked Chef Adam Busby of The Culinary Institute of America during an interview with him in October 2005 for "Weekend Edition." "Would I feel like a big fat pig, that I just ate way too much?" she probed.
"No, no, no," was Busby's emphatic reply. "When you get to the end of a meal like this, you feel like you've had lots of fun … that you've almost been on a trip--a culinary trip in your mind-- in the flavors that you've tasted … It wasn't just a meal, it was an adventure."
Much like the seven-course adventure offered to diners during an Advanced Culinary end-of-course luncheon, or even the three-course meals annual Military Culinary Arts Training Event-goers are treated to each spring. At the Army-standard, mid-day meal price of $5.55, the trip can't be beat, said JCCoE director, Lt. Col. Damon Varnado. It is sustenance meant to be savored.
"The fully-plated, seven-course meal could take up to an hour and a half or more to enjoy depending on how things are going in the kitchen," Varnado warned the diners, but it is well worth the investment.
During the June 15 luncheon, the JCCoE kitchen was under the student command of Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany Stephens, from Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. With slightly less than a year under her belt as an enlisted aide, Stephens served as executive chef for "Travels with James Bond," taking charge not only behind the kitchen door, but she also directed the service out front in the dining room. For the luncheon, a mirror service was used.
"It's the way servers do everything in synchronization, mirroring each other," she said. Stephens sees her job as a military chef as an art form, beautiful in its precision.
Precision itself is so important in a well-run kitchen, there is a "motto" for chefs that speaks to the need for accuracy and meticulousness. Taped to a wall above the stoves was a piece of paper displaying the words, "Mise like a champion today." "Mise en place," is a French culinary phrase which means "putting in place," or "everything in its place," and refers to the set up and preparation required before cooking commences. These are words to live by in the kitchen, Ward explained.
While a single spectacular culinary experience is one of the outward results of the learning that takes place throughout the advanced culinary course, the benefits are much further-reaching.
"We want these culinary skills as an everyday practice in the [dining facilities]," said Master Sgt. Orlando G. Akins Sr., the senior culinary management NCO for the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), Fort Eustis, Va. Akins attended the luncheon to support Sgt. Karina Tyree, a Soldier from his unit who won her spot in the course by winning a top chef-like competition at her home station.
"We owe it to the Soldiers to cook like this in our serving lines every day," Akins said.
The advanced course is meant for Soldiers taking assignments with the operational force as well as those who will be serving as enlisted aides to military senior leadership in nominative positions, Ward said.
"Translating these skills into daily food service operations may not seem obvious," Ward explained, "but there is a connection. These students return to the operational Army -- or other services -- and contribute to better food service for all troops."
For more pictures of the luncheon, visit the CASCOM Flicker site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/usarmycascom/albums/72157669418039650.