Marines cook their way to the top at JCTE

By Dani JohnsonMarch 16, 2019

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(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEE, Va. - For the first time, the Marine Corps was recognized as the Culinary Team of the Year and 293 American Culinary Federation (ACF) medals were awarded to military chefs at the 44th annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise (JCTE) awards ceremony Mar. 15 here.

JCTE started Mar. 8 with the Armed Forces Chef of the Year event and continued until Mar. 14 with the culmination of the International Two-Chef Culinary Challenge. The exercise, administered by the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, is the largest ACF-sanctioned competition in North America. This year's exercise showcased the talent of 201 military chefs from all military services around the globe to include four international teams.

"Your participation in the exercise demonstrated your commitment and passion for culinary excellence," said Brig. Gen. Douglas M. McBride Jr., Quartermaster General. "What you do plays an integral part in our military readiness across the joint force.

"Napoleon is often quoted as saying 'the Army marches on its stomach,' and that is 100 percent true," said the general. "In order for our service members to be effective on the battlefield, they must have healthy and plentiful delivered on time, on target, in any operating environment."

This year, more than 4,000 people were on hand to watch 22 teams with 399 cooking entries judged, competing from all five service branches and three countries.

"Must recognize the competing Soldiers and their coaches who are striving for recognition to showcase their talent and skills in an effort to become better cooks and chefs to improve the quality of the culinary food industry," said Chef Roland Schaeffer, lead judge, ACF. "I know you are tired and you did a good job.

"I once asked General MacLaughlin what was the criteria of becoming a good general and he told me you first have to be a good Soldier," said the chef. "That is the same advice goes for our profession, you have to become a good cook before you become a good chef."

Thirteen teams vied for Culinary Team of the Year with Fort Drum, New York, team as the runner up to the Marine Corps; Fort Drum student team was recognized as the best team with all five members having less than two years in culinary arts; Chief Petty Officer Frida Karani, culinary specialist, U.S. Navy, was recognized as best master chef; Spc. Mark Caseres, culinary arts specialist, Team Hawaii, won best Armed Forces Chef; and Lance Cpl. Christopher Sanchez, food service specialist, Marine Corps, won best student chef.

The first year at JCTE, the pastry chef of the year had to create a plated dessert and a celebration cake. Staff Sgt. Samantha Poe, District of Washington, was recognized as the pastry chef of the year. Fort Drum student team, Karani, Poe and Sanchez are now eligible to attend the ACF National Convention & Show Aug. 4 - 8 in Orlando, Florida.

Best in Show individual, Sgt. Bruce Serafica, Fort Carson, Colorado, was recognized as one who stood out to the judges through his workmanship, attitude, passion, exemplary future leadership and epitomized culinary excellence. Four countries -- United States, France, Great Britain, and Canada -- participated in the international challenge with Team France coming out victorious.

Along with testing their skills in one of the many categories, 38 service members also tried for a spot on the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team. The USACAT is the military's national culinary team and offers members the opportunity to compete in international-level while sharpening and broadening their skills. Poe, Serafica, Spc. Kaitlyn Tran, Fort Carson; Staff Sgt. Andrew Shurden, Fort Stewart, Georgia; Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Jeffrey Plotz, U.S. Coast Guard; Culinary Specialist 1st Class Jeremy Anderson, U.S. Naval War College, Rhode Island; Staff Sgt. Justin Chase, Fort Meade, Maryland; and Sgt. Nickesha Carmichael, Pfc. Jordon Broadway, and Pfc. Tylor Brooks, Fort Drum; will represent the U.S. Armed Forces in the Culinary Olympics in February at Stuttgart, Germany.

"All of these folks here will travel back to their unit, teach what they learned from each other and they raise everyone else's game," said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Jason M. Vanderhaden, who started his career as a culinary specialist and held a cooking demonstration during JCTE. "Everyone aspires to want to be the best at what they do, this helps to showcase that and help train people to raise their game."

Competing chefs were judged based on ACF guidelines, they were not competing against each other but against industry standards. Those who exceeded industry standards were given medals - 42 gold medals, 112 silver medals and 139 bronze medals were presented to military chefs who met the judging criteria.

The best of those were awarded the following:

Culinary Team of the Year:

Marine Corps

Runner up: Fort Drum

Judges Award, Best in Show:


Armed Forces Master Chef of the Year:


Armed Forces Chef of the Year:


Armed Forces Student Chef of the Year:


Army Enlisted Aide of the Year:

Chase. Chase serves as the enlisted aide to Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, director of the National Security Agency, and chief of the Central Security Service.

Student Team Competition:

Fort Drum

International Team of the Year:

Team France

Military Hot Food Kitchen - five-person team utilizing the Army mobile kitchen trailer, preparing a buffet meal for 50 guests:

Fort Carson

Nutritional Hot Food Challenge - celebrates National Nutrition Month and healthy cooking:

Sgts. Klinton Bautista and Clarence Robinson, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington

Pastry Chef of the Year


Winners in special categories included:

Best Exhibit in Show (Cat. D, Culinary Showpiece):

Spc. Mark Pulido, Fort Bliss, Texas

Judges Special Award (Cold Food Table)

Team Hawaii

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 their customers in the dining facilities, as well as acceptance in the civilian sector when the service member transitions out of the military.