ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - For Sgt. 1st Class Antoine Williams, cooking has always been his passion. He has been the family cook since he can remember. From a young age he has worked in fast-foods restaurants, country clubs and steak houses. That is why it was no surprise to his peers and family when he recently graduated top-of-the-class from the Advanced Culinary Skills Training Course (ACSTC) at Fort Lee, Virginia.
The ACSTC, a hands-on course designed to improve the overall skills of experienced cooks, focuses on knife skills, menu development, advanced baking techniques, buffet platter production and presentation, course meals, advanced dessert preparation and nutrition, as well as other areas of advanced culinary techniques.
Normally, individuals who enroll in ACSTC are Food Service Specialist (92G) military occupational specialty certified, but Williams, being a communications specialist for the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, had to start from scratch at 15 years of his military career by enrolling in the advanced individual training (AIT) for 92G prior to ACSTC.
Initially, Williams wanted to join the Army as a cook, but his uncle, who was in the Army at the time, talked him out of it.
After acing ACSTC, he applied for the Enlisted Aide Training Course (EATC), which trains selected service personnel to become enlisted aides for generals or flag officers, and passed it with flying colors as well. This course provides techniques and skills required for daily household management, uniform maintenance, basic bartending, accounting, and all other necessary requirements to be an enlisted aide.
"I heard about it (EATC) when I was in my last duty station," said the Florence, South Carolina native. "I shunned it off at the time because my last duty station was kind of high-speed, and we were in the field every other month."
Enlisted aides are entrusted with the daily duty of maintenance and supervision of facilities in and around flag officer's official quarters to include the preparation, presentation and service of food and beverages at all official functions and formal dinners.
Although he loves cooking, he did not love the idea of being an enlisted aide earlier in his career.
"I looked at it in a negative aspect when I first saw it," He said. "But maturing mentally, spiritually and professionally... I look at it in a different aspect now. This is a great chance for me to grow a little bit more."
Both the ACSTC and the EATC are jointly trained courses, which means instructions are provided by different branches of the military. The training currently has instructors from the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
"We had all branches represented in my class," said the ACSTC honor grad. "I learned about their cook's duties, what they were responsible for, and how they operated."
According to the school, training with the different services combines the skills and knowledge of each service, incorporates new trends in food service, and converts to restaurant style service instead of traditional military dining facility service. It also reflects the way the military executes their missions across the world.
The final test event for ACSTC is a six, seven or nine course meal prepared for 24 VIP's and guests. The entire class is responsible for designing, preparing and serving the meal.
For his class, it was a seven course meal.
"Each of my ten classmates were responsible for a particular dish. I was responsible for the three 'hors d'oeuvres.'"
During the course, trainees may also obtain the American Culinary Federation Certification, which is, according to the federation, the most comprehensive certification program for culinarians with more than 15 certification levels. Unfortunately, Williams' class did not get this opportunity.
"I did not receive an ACF certification during the course," he said. "We were not evaluated for that. I did receive a ServSafe certification for administrators."
ServSafe is a food and beverage safety training certification required by most restaurants as a credential for their management staff.
As previously mentioned, Williams' peers think highly of him. Not only about his cooking skills, but also on a personal level.
"Sgt. 1st Class Williams is a very spiritual individual. It is displayed through his conduct and his interactions with others. He often assists the 20th (CBRNE Command's) Chaplain. I have had the pleasure of eating some of the food he prepared: Smoked, and crockpot barbecue ribs and a strawberry crepe. All three were absolutely delicious, and left me craving for more."
- Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joseph Triplett, information system security manager, 20th CBRNE Command
"My favorite thing from Sgt. 1st Class Williams is his soon-to-be-world-famous homemade hot sauce. I could put that on everything. If I were to put his skills in a relatable context, in the U.S. Army he's sergeant first class, but a four-star general in the kitchen hands down."
- Spc. Tedrick Jackson, information technology specialist, 20th CBRNE Command
"He sets expectations up front and is very open about his overall view on things and what he expects from everyone as a team. I remember some BBQ ribs and corn bread that could have been from a Michelin Star restaurant. All of it was excellent and prepared and presented expertly. He gets all the small things right which add up to a tidy and presentable big picture which is evident in what he puts in front of you: a plate of delicious food that you want more of."
- Spc. Carlos Colon, information technology specialist, 20th CBRNE Command