FORT SILL, Okla. (March 8, 2018) -- Eleven Fort Sill culinary specialists are participating in the DoD's "food Olympics" -- the 43rd Annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise (JCTE), which runs today through March 16, at Fort Lee, Va.

Teams of culinary specialists worldwide from the five U.S. armed services, National Guard, and Reserve are competing for team and individual medals at the largest culinary competition in North America.

The Fort Sill Culinary Arts Team members work at the Guns and Rockets Dining Facility (DFAC), and are from the 31st Air Defense Artillery, and 75th Field Artillery brigades.

The team consists of many junior Soldiers who have never competed at JCTE, but they should do well, said team manager Sgt. 1st Class Francisco Delgado.

"I feel we have a really good shot at getting a team medal," said Delgado, whose manager role is a support position and does not involve competing. "That would be the biggest reward for me to see my Soldiers win a medal."

Tryouts for the team began in December, Delgado said.

"I picked the members based on motivation, skill level, and passion for the MOS (military occupational specialty 92G), said Delgado, who has competed at the JCTE seven years. Only two of the chefs have JCTE experience.

"I told them it's going to be a lot of hard work with long hours, but their passion will carry them to do what they have to," Delgado said. "And, I want them to have fun."

Since their selection, the team has been practicing 12 to 14 hour days, including weekends, the manager said.

Their day begins at 6 a.m. with physical training for one hour. Soldiers return to the DFAC at 9 a.m. and spend the rest of the day sharpening their skills.

"Sometimes we skip our own lunch because we're so busy training, and we'll work till 1800 or 1900 hours every day," Delgado said. He said the chefs are authorized to nibble on their own creations if they do miss lunch.

Because 11 culinary specialists are out temporarily off the duty roster at Guns and Rockets the remaining culinary specialists who work there have been taking on the extra load, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeremy Patterson, 75th FAB food adviser.

Patterson said that the training the team has been going through will determine how well they do at Fort Lee. "We train as we fight."

The culinarians served 50 guests a three-course meal March 2, at the Guns and Rockets DFAC as the final practice before the competition. It was prepared in the Mobile Kitchen Trailer (MKT), which is a field kitchen used to serve Soldiers in forward operating positions. It can serve up to 300 Soldiers at one sitting, Delgado said.

The MKT is one of the categories of the competition, said Sgt. 1st Class Evelyn Esposito, team captain, from Anadarko, Okla. Culinary specialists will be provided a one-hour briefing, five hours to cook the meal in the MKT, and 1.5 hours to serve 50 diners the three courses.

The meal at the DFAC consisted of an appetizer of strawberry arugula salad tossed in balsamic vinaigrette with feta cheese and toasted walnuts. The entrée was filet of beef tenderloin with kabocha squash purée, red wine reduction, herb infused au gratin potatoes, grilled asparagus and vegetable medley. The dessert was carrot cake with vanilla cream cheese topping, macerated fruits, candied carrots, almond brittle with strawberry coulis.

Afterward, guests were encouraged to provide written comments about their dining experience, so the chefs could see where they did well, and to see where they could improve, Patterson.

Guests who dined Feb. 28, were served the same cuisine, and also offered evaluation cards. Comments included, the cuts of the meat should be the same size, and some of the meat was overdone, Patterson said. The chefs were provided the feedback and keyed in on those, Patterson said. "I already see a vast improvement from Wednesday."

The result was diners giving a standing ovation to the chefs for their preparation and presentation of the lunch, March 2.

"It was delicious," said diner Judith Oman, Commanders Planning Group videographer. "What blew my mind is that it was cooked in an MKT. I've eaten from MKTs many times, and the food that came off it was never that good."

One diner who wished to remain anonymous said the almond brittle, served with the carrot cake, was one of the most wonderful tastes he's ever experienced.

A team within the team is the Student Skills Team, which consists of culinary specialists E-4 and below, who will compete against similar teams. Spc. Han Kim, is the Student Skills Team captain. He said part of his role is to motivate his Soldiers by encouraging and complimenting their efforts.

"At first, everyone is slow (with meal preparation), but they make improvements in the long run," he said.

Han admitted he's a little nervous having never competed at JCTE.

"I've been practicing many hours to be the best," he said. Kim will compete in such categories as, filet beef, chicken, fish, and vegetables.

What do the culinary specialists gain by participating in the JCTE?

"They gain a lot of knowledge and skills that they can incorporate into their dining facilities," Delgado said. "A goal is for them to keep wanting to do this as an Army career."