Twelve local Soldiers vie for title as 'cream of the crop'

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii - The 2009 Hawaii Culinary Team is testing its recipe for success during the 34th annual U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Va., Feb. 28-March 13.

The key ingredients are the 12 food service specialists selected to compete this year for Hawaii, said Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Francis, chief food operations, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii.

The chefs were chosen for Hawaii's team in early January at a preliminary competition that tested the Soldier-chefs' culinary knowledge and skills during an intense, three-course meal cook-off.

"Overall, our goal is to win Installation of the Year," said Francis, who will compete individually for Armed Forces Chef of the Year.

The team also has a strong chance to move from its second-place finish in the Field Cooking category last year, to first place in this year's competition, he said.

Field cooking tests a four-person team on the preparation of a plated, three-course meal for 60 people using a containerized kitchen.

"This is still a young team, due to deployment, with only three returning members," said Francis.

During training, special emphasis was placed on learning how to compete, in addition to food presentation, composition, preparation and serving, he explained.

Soldier-chefs began training even before the final team selections were made. They honed their culinary prowess under local certified executive chefs and civilian advisors such as Alan Tsuchiyama, culinary arts instructor at Kapiolani Community College, Executive Chef Ernesto Limcaco, Y. Hata Executive Chefs program, and Executive Pastry Chef Isaac Tamada.

"Leadership, beyond the question, is the strength of this team, along with their cohesiveness," said Limcaco, team coach. "It is a team to be reckoned with this year."

Sgt. Monique Sorrell, U.S. Army-Pacific Special Troops Battalion, is one of three returning members and team captain. She said the secret to winning will be "timing, confidence and great food."

Sorrell, who is competing for Individual Junior Chef of the Year, said her early culinary influences were Julia Childs and Emeril Lagasse. Ultimately, she became a military chef because "eating makes people smile," she said.

"Soldiers deserve more than just a hot meal when they finish their day, and being a chef allows me to provide just that,"she explained.

Sorrell said she spent a lot of time putting together the team's menus. Without revealing the actual menu selections, she hinted at the variety of possibilities under a New Orleans theme.

First-year competitor and Atlantic Culinary Arts Academy graduate Spc. Christopher Bates, Headquarters Support Company, 209th Aviation Support Battalion, believes the key to winning a specific event is the menu, "but it ultimately comes down to the flavor and the plating." Bates has a penchant for French cooking and hopes to become a restaurant owner someday.

Building skills for the competition, as well as for life after the military, was stressed during training by the team's coaches, including Limcaco.

"The food industry is a big industry with so many avenues and opportunities to make a decent income," Limcaco said. "Training is ongoing and it doesn't end here."

The two-week event tests the skills of approximately 200 military chefs across the Department of Defense in a variety of individual and team categories such as Chef and Junior Chef of the Year, Pastry, Field Cooking, Nutritional Hot Food Challenge, Ice Carving, Showpieces, Team Buffet, and a Culinary Knowledge Bowl.

The 2009 winners will be selected March 13.