FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- An experienced Army Cyber Command chef here has earned gold -- again -- in the Army's annual culinary showcase.
Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel Aquilano cooked his way to a gold medal in this year's Enlisted Aide Hot Food Challenge, the cooking portion of the Enlisted Aide of the Year event at the 44th Annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise at Fort Lee, Va., from March 6-15. Aquilano serves as the enlisted aide to ARCYBER commander Lt. Gen. Stephen G. Fogarty.
More than 200 military chefs from all U.S. services and three allied nations participated in this year's JCTE. The Army's Quartermaster School is the proponent for the competition, the largest American Culinary Federation-sanctioned event in North America. ACF chefs judge the competition and oversee credentialing opportunities open to its participants.
Aquilano says the cooking challenge called on him to prepare a four-course meal, with four portions in each course, in three hours and 40 minutes. The gold-winning menu he created included:
First course: Tomato tartlet with pepper jam and goat cheese with arugula purée
Second course: Duck consommé garnished with quenelle of duck mousseline and vegetable mirepoix
Third course: Rabbit prosciutto roulade with sauce moutarde, wilted baby spinach and tri-colored carrots
Fourth course: Chocolate fudge cake with chocolate ganache and toasted chocolate meringue with orange sorbet and raspberry puree
Aquilano is a native of Lexington, N.C. with 15 years of Army service who says he started cooking at the age of 16 and now has 30 years' experience in hospitality. He has a degree in Culinary Arts from Guilford Technical Community College and plans to complete a bachelor's degree in Hospitality Management at American Military University by the time he retires from the Army.
But he said JCTE was still a challenge.
"I did find the competition challenging due to the lack of sleep, and transporting equipment from one building to another building that was about four blocks away. The cooking equipment was transported on speed racks to the location to compete -- organization of product was key," he said.
"What I find the most challenging as a culinary specialist is timing. To ensure an event is a great success, timing and planning is everything -- for example cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, entrees and desserts for 200 people."
But he also said his specialty is that he feels comfortable in a kitchen, and able to accommodate most requests in a timely manner. And his success in competition proves that's more than just bragging. Aquilano has competed in four JCTE events since 2011 and earned a total of three gold, four silver, and two bronze medals.
He said he knows he has competed against the very best at JCTE, and taking home awards is "truly an accomplishment."
"To receive an award indicates how much devotion and preparation the chef had invested in the competition," he said.
"The competitors that I competed against are some of the best (Culinary Specialists, or Culinarians) the Army has to offer. They are all amazing chefs, and very competitive. I was honored to have competed with them. And I am very humbled and honored that I received a gold medal from ACF-certified judges."
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