FORT SILL, Okla., Oct. 22, 2019 -- A seasoned Army culinary specialist faced off against one of his protégés in the Guns and Rockets Dining Facility's first plant-based cook-off following the facility's Oct. 16 lunch.

Sgt. 1st Class Francisco Delgado, the sage of culinary expertise and dining facility manager, began the cooking competitions earlier this year as a way to boost morale in the 60 cooks he oversees.

But, rather than an up and coming culinary artist taking on a peer, Spc. Trevor Gillespie challenged Delgado, who trained Gillespie in the ways of cooking greens rather than meals that included plant and animal products.

The two culinary specialists had one hour to turn a mystery basket of eight items into a meal worthy of the judging panel's praise. As they attended to their creations, other cooks intently watched or recorded their efforts on smart phones.

Delgado called this "the biggest reward an NCO can get" -- to watch a Soldier he trained matching him point for point, and flavor for flavor. In the end a single point separated the two scorecards with Delgado tabulated as the winner.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeremy Patterson called the competition between the two Soldiers a great example of lead, teach, coach, and mentor. But, perhaps higher praise came in his assessment of what they served up.

"I tasted what each of you created and would pay top dollar for either in a restaurant," said Patterson, the food service adviser to the 75th Field Artillery Brigade commander.

Delgado said talk of plan-based meals began with the previous DFAC manager who did a couple things, though Delgado's interest in plant-based eating wasn't there. Through Patterson's mentoring, the concept of the Army's first plant-based-friendly dining facility took root as Delgado learned more about it.

"Everything I take on I try to take the next level," he said. "I don't like being just average."

With his DFAC assistant manager, Staff Sgt. Anthony Barnes, and Patterson, the trio set to altering certain Army-approved recipes to make them plant-based friendly. So far, five recipes have been approved by the post dietitian and higher headquarters.

Delgado then set to training everyone on his staff what constitutes a plant-based meal and what acceptable ingredients they could use.

"Now, all have the knowledge and can cook up a recipe if needed," he said.

Some of those recipes may have made it home to the Delgado residence. Professing to being a meat eater all his life, Delgado and his wife changed their diet with a plant-based, 30-day challenge in May. Noting a drop in weight from the 240 pounds he began at, he continued on with plant based eating. Now, five months later he's shed 40 pounds and said he experiences less back and joint pain from standing in the dining facility all day.

Though the weight has come off, Delgado still enjoys adding the pounds back on … in a different manner.

"I've always enjoyed lifting weights and find that a good outlet for stress as a Soldier," he said. "Being plant-based doesn't affect me as I still do my lifting and my body recovers well after each workout, whether lifting or doing cardio."

Patterson expressed his appreciation for the approval of his commander and the Fires Center of Excellence for this new way of thinking outside of the box.

"I believe the quality food this dining facility serves up helps Fort Sill's efforts to put the spotlight on healthier options, whether diet or fitness, and plays a role in readiness and enhancing the post's recognition as a Healthy Army Community," he said.