FORT LEE, Va. -- More than 200 military chefs from all branches and three countries descended onto Fort Lee Mar. 9 - 14 for the 44th annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise (JCTE).

The annual military competitive event, administered by the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, is the largest American Culinary Federation (ACF)-sanctioned culinary competition in North America.

"It is all about readiness and lethality," said Brig. Gen. Douglas McBride, Quartermaster General. "The most precious resource we have are our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and Airmen and it important what fuel we put in them."

This year's event introduces a new category with pastry chef of the year. Teams will also showcase their talents in six other categories to include Armed Forces chef, student chef, student team, nutrition hot food challenge, table displays and mobile kitchen hot food challenge.

"It is the next level and your displaying that you are one of the best in your craft in the military," said Sgt. Joshua Hoyt, Fort Drum, N.Y., team captain and a 10-year competitor. "Great experience, you get to teach the younger Soldiers new skills and also learn new skills from some of the best chefs in the industry today."

Competing service members are afforded the opportunity to earn ACF certifications, a recognized industry-standard credential. These credentials help the chefs provide better service to the customers in the dining facility and deployed, as well as acceptance in the civilian sector when the service member transitions out of the military.

Many of the military chefs come to the exercise to expand their knowledge and their skills.
"A lot of open opportunities to expand my career," said Marine Corps Private First Class Katelyn Smith, a first-time competitor, on what she was hoping to get out of the exercise.

"The teams aren't competing against each other but against culinary industry standards," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joseph Wisniewiski, JCTE organizer. "The sharing of techniques and information allows for growth among the chefs."

One military chef now cooking at the White House credits the exercise helping him achieve his goals.

In 2011, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gil Medina was an airman on the Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, team.

"I competed in the junior chef (now student chef) and won," said Medina. "Brought opportunities, after my second year there were a lot of detailers around looking for people to work for the Secretary of Defense which lead me to there and then Presidential Food Services where I am now."

At the end of the exercise, an awards ceremony will be held to determine the best of the best in multiple categories.