Several Soldiers from the Eighth Army Culinary team received top honors during the 44th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competition Training Event in Fort Lee, VA. This is the biggest military cooking competition in the world, with more than 120 competitors from all over the world, including military members from France, Germany, Canada, and Great Britain. The Eighth Army Culinary team won awards in individual categories and the team placed 5th overall of 20 teams during the mid-March competition. The Eighth Army Culinary Team participated in such events as individual cooking, team cooking, pastry baking, showpiece creation, hot food challenge and more.

Lt. Gen. Michael A. Bills, Eighth Army commanding general and Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Schmidt, Eighth Army senior enlisted advisor, recognized Soldiers from the Eighth Army Culinary Team during a ceremony at the Eighth Army headquarters April 12. The Soldiers, who hail from Eighth Army's and its subordinate commands, were recognized for their exceptional performance during the.
Soldiers from across the peninsula had to compete with one another to join this elite team. "We really had an advantage compared to other teams because we could pull from the entire peninsula instead of just an installation," said Sgt. Joshua Hoyt, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, culinary specialist. "I'm sure the competition gave younger Soldiers a greater appreciation for cooking and helped them learn new skills."

Soldiers trained for several weeks prior to the competition to sharpen their skills. Their training focused on a range of culinary arts from individual strengths in food preparation and decoration to team skills in full culinary courses.

"We created a four-course meal during the training for the competition and learned such skills as segmenting oranges, slicing onions, and creating pastry cream to the industry standard," said Pfc. Ivan Gaona.

The team showed this advantage with several Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals awarded in categories such as Senior Chef of the Year, Pastry Chef of the Year, Student Team of the Year, and Junior Chef of the Year. The Soldiers won these awards despite being the challenges of having only four days to prepare once they landed state-side.

"We had a really strong team and I look forward to continuing to build on the skills I gained during this competition," said Sgt. Raul Najera, a culinary specialist assigned to 1st Signal Brigade. "I really think that the credit goes to some of the more experienced members of the team in helping us to really bring our best."

Cooking wasn't the only lesson learned in this group. Hard work, camaraderie and perseverance, critical skills as both a Soldier and in the kitchen were some of the things the Soldiers said they took away from the competition.

In the end, The Eighth Army Culinary team were proud of their accomplishments and bittersweet over having to separate back to their home stations throughout Korea.

"I could see all of their perseverance and I'm extremely proud of this team," Hoyt said. "This is a team Eighth Army can be proud of."