Two weeks of high-paced competition culminated March 13 in an awards ceremony at Lewi Auditorium to close out the 34th U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition.

The team from Fort Bragg, N.C., claimed the title of Installation of the Year. In doing so, they earned the distinction of being awarded the IOY title most often in the history of the competition - nine times.

Fort Bragg team captain Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Lubnow said the competition this year was a great experience.

"We love competing," he said. "It is a great feeling to win. We have a good team and we've worked together to achieve this. We couldn't do it without the support of the Fort Bragg community."

The team from Fort Riley, Kan., placed second and the team from U.S. Army, Hawaii took third place. Col. Alexander Davis, assistant commandant of the Quartermaster Center and School and guest speaker, spoke about the history of this competition. He said that Lt. Gen. John D. McLaughlin had a vision about showcasing the talents and abilities of food service Soldiers and recognizing them in front of their peers.

"This competition is dedicated to the education and professionalism in culinary arts and more importantly the military food service program," Davis said. "Every competitor sitting here today represents the best of the best in the military food service program."

Addressing the audience, Chef John Kinsella, the president of the American Culinary Federation, asked the competitors if they realized they were in the entertainment business.

"Because every day with your good food you entertain the palettes of every Soldier you serve," Kinsella said.

He told the competitors they were the future of America's armed forces and the culinary profession.

"If you become a great cook, you'll become a great chef," he said.

In all, the competition included 483 competitive entries from 184 competitors from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. This year marked the second time in the history of the culinary arts competition that all five branches of the services were represented. During the awards ceremony, 266 medals were distributed to the competitors, including 49 gold. Events included Armed Forces Chef of the Year, where 19 culinarians vied for the coveted title among military food service professionals.

Taking top honors and bragging rights in that category was Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Edwards, a culinarian from the U.S. Navy.

Fort Bragg's Spc. Javier Muniz defeated 10 other culinarians for the title of Armed Forces Junior Chef of the Year. Muniz competed in the same category last year and walked away without the title. This year he returned determined and with the experience needed to win.

"Last year I competed for the first time," Muniz said. "I was so nervous I messed up in the kitchen. This year I came back like Rocky Balboa to take the title."

Muniz competed in six categories and took gold in three. He also earned two silver medals and one bronze for his work throughout the week. Twelve teams battled it out in the Field Cooking event. Team Hawaii took top honors, with Fort Bragg a close second and the U.S. Coast Guard team placing third. The field cooking category took a page from the World Culinary Olympics and for the first time in the competition's history, the teams were required to develop a three-course meal of their choice. With a four-hour time limit, the teams were tasked with feeding 60 people while utilizing the Army's containerized kitchens.

More than 700 five-star meals worthy of a place on the menus in the world's best restaurants were served to the Fort Lee community during the three-day event.