FORT HOOD, Texas- Between working long hours, weekends, and holidays, the Army's culinary specialists are soldiers who rarely have the opportunity to let loose and be creative with their skillsets. Hoping to inspire creativity, improve skills, and boost morale, the leaders at the Theodore Roosevelt Dining Facility created a friendly cook-off competition which is held every week for their culinary specialists.
"We wanted to do something that would help boost morale," said Staff Sgt. Shandalee Greene, the training noncommissioned officer-in-charge at the DFAC. "It also gives the soldiers a chance to show off their skills that we may not have otherwise noticed."
While the friendly competition started out as something for just the culinary specialists, it soon opened up to others when Spc. Michael Chambers, an infantryman with Grim Troop, 2nd Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, challenged the cooks.
Greene said Chambers is a regular customer at the Theodore Roosevelt DFAC who always comes in with a friendly smile, and at seven foot, four inches tall, he's hard to miss.
"I saw them doing the competition and started talking smack about how I could cook and just like that, they invited me to show off my skills against one of their cooks," said Chambers.
Chambers faced off against Spc. Ricardo Centeno-Guzman, a cook with 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, who was once part of a culinary team.
"I love to cook and to think outside the box," said Centeno-Guzman. "I once created a sauce with ground-up octopus and nobody thought it would be good, but it was."
The cook-off began with a mystery basket containing items the competitors had to use in their dish. The competitors could add as much as they wanted to their dish and were given 30 minutes to prep, and gather any additional items. They then had one hour to prepare their dish and plate it.
During the cook-off, the competitors were watched and graded on food safety. Once the dishes were plated, they then received feed-back on presentation and taste from two graders, and a blind taste-tester who sampled both dishes.
Blind taste-tester Sgt. Maj. Dustin McIntosh, senior enlisted advisor, 3rd Cav. Regt., commended Chambers for his courage to compete and applauded the culinary specialists of the DFAC for their skills.
"I was pretty impressed," said McIntosh. "It's good that you get to showcase your artwork every once in a while."
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Henry McNeily, support operations, 407th Army Field Support Brigade, praised the leaders and soldiers of the DFAC for their innovation.
"I've never in my career seen anything like this," said McNeily. "A cook-off that includes non-food service professionals- even more impressive that it was an 11 bravo."
Winning the cook-off with his dish on presentation and taste, Centeno-Guzman said he enjoyed competing against Chambers and hopes others are inspired to participate.
"I didn't win, but I had a blast," said Chambers. "I'll be better prepared next time."