PEMBROKE, N.H. -- A cornucopia of military and civilian culinary talent gathered around grills and in classrooms to learn, compete and swap recipes during the New Hampshire National Guard's second annual food service training exercise Sept. 11-15 at the Edward Cross Training Center in Pembroke, New Hampshire.

More than 40 people from across the country participated, including National Guardsmen from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Georgia, and New Mexico. They were joined by students from Johnson and Wales University, as well as local government and law enforcement officials who acted as judges.

"I was able to learn a lot more than I thought I would," said Pfc. Esmeralda Frederick, a food service technician with the New York Army National Guard. "From a junior NCO standpoint, it was great working as a team even though we had never met. It was cool to see that this could be the future of our food service. It makes we want to be a better Soldier, a better cook. I'm looking forward to taking these recipes back and sharing them with my unit."

The "Granite Grillers," a team comprised of Guardsmen from New Hampshire, Maine and New Jersey won the Iron Chef competition with a chicken and vegetable entrée.

On the last day, training culminated with representatives from Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center, or Natick Labs, presenting new food service technologies. They gave attendees, joined by N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu, a chance to sample potential new additions to MREs or Meals Ready to Eat, the high-calorie, field-ready staple of combat troops for decades. Their feedback will help steer future versions of combat meals, according to the Natick representatives.

Overall, the training was a huge success, said Capt. Benjamin Leonard, the New Hampshire Army National Guard food service officer. "We wanted participants to think outside the box. So many times we get wrapped up in the Army or Air way of thinking. We wanted (cooks) to create something new that no one's ever done before."

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Stanley Jung, the National Guard's senior food service advisor from Arlington, Virginia, was an observer who looked forward to starting similar, regional workshops across the country.

"The hope being that when culinary managers go to work during a disaster or during a deployment, it won't be a new experience for them to be working in a joint environment," Jung said.

He'll be sure to include feedback from cooks like Frederick. "Some people don't take their jobs too seriously," she said. "It's nice to be a part of something like this and be recognized as professionals in what we do and to feel so important."