The 44th Annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise held its second individual category March 12, at the Maclaughlin Fitness Center on Fort Lee, Virginia.
The annual JCTE is the largest American Culinary Federation-sanctioned competition in North America, and showcases the talent of military chefs from around the world in all branches of the U.S. and foreign militaries.
Spc. Raul Macuil, a native of Riverside, California, represented the 101st Airborne Division's Culinary Arts Team, as he competed for the title of Pastry Chef of the Year. He was one of 36 culinarians to express interest in joining the United States Army Culinary Arts Team.
Macuil, a culinary arts specialist from 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), prepared two dishes for American Culinary Federation judges to taste and critique.
"I practiced for about two weeks, and the night prior I prepped for about four or five hours," he said.
In phase one, he prepared a chocolate mousse cake, using tempered chocolate, pineapple-ginger coulis and a cherry-red wine coulis for plate design. Macuil had just over two hours to prepare and serve his dish before he cleaned his work station -- a specified task. Despite his training, Macuil met some difficulties while participating in this category.
"Getting the mousse to set correctly -- I struggled on that," Macuil said. "I was nervous about not getting my plate out on time. I feel like I could have done better on my hot plated dessert."
In spite of his struggles, Macuil was optimistic about his phase two task. During the category's second phase, he had two hours and forty five minutes to create a celebration cake of his choosing. He prepared a cream cheese-filled, three-layer, chocolate anniversary cake with a top layer of fondant.
Jill Bosich, national chairperson for the American Culinary Federation, was one of the judges evaluating each culinarian participating in the exercise. However, the judges among them who were also scouting for USACAT remained a mystery to the contenders.
"I'm personally not evaluating for that, but I will tell you that this is a layered process; if an individual stands out, they are going to get noticed," Bosich said. "As with anything else inside the military or outside -- when you demonstrate excellence, people appreciate it and they want to feature that."
Macuil said he didn't join the Army to feature his cooking skills, and picked up his culinary interest upon enlisting. Encouragement from a staff sergeant who saw his potential led him to the culinary arts team, the JCTE and dreams of joining USACAT. Macuil said he enjoys the type of cooking required for the exercise.
"You get to focus a lot more on the details of the plate [here] versus feeding 500 people in a limited amount of time," Macuil said. "Focusing more on detail is fun for me."
Macuil will return to Fort Campbell, Kentucky with some takeaways from the exercise to share with his teammates and the other culinary arts specialist in his unit. He said he will take the ACF judges' critiques home, with hopes that he can use them to benefit himself and others. His overall advice is to simply participate.
"If [other culinary arts specialists] get a chance to come to the Joint Culinary Training Exercise I would advise them to," Macuil said. "It's a good learning experience"