FORT LEE, Va. (Army News Service, March 19, 2007) - It will be a competition blissfully remembered by the Texas-based team of chefs who earned Installation of the Year Award at the 2007 U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Va., March 16. It is the first in the competition's 32-year history that Fort Bliss has won the top award.

"Our expectations were simple coming into competition," said Chief Warrant 2 Charles Talley, Fort Bliss team manager. "We come here to train, compete and ultimately, win. This is a competition that enhances the Army Food Program, and that's why it's special to be here. We were just fortunate enough to accomplish the ultimate goal."

The sounds of more than 150 chefs at work in the kitchen was nothing compared to the noise of the gold, silver and bronze medals they wore around their necks at the end of the presentations. With the medals displayed proudly on his Class A uniform, Pfc. Robert Capazzi, Fort Bliss, also carried the award for Junior Chef of the Year.

"I wasn't expecting to win this, so it's a great honor," said Capazzi, who also earned Best Exhibit in Pastry and Confection. "But winning Installation of the Year is a big achievement, because we have a great team and it's going to be great bringing this back to Fort Bliss for the first time."

Team Europe finished second in Installation of the Year, surprising Pfc. Garrett Andrews, who thought the judging was tougher than the past three years he's competed here.

"After earning a bunch of commendables (ribbons), we may have thought we were out of the running," said Andrews, "but we were surprised. I think winning the Nutritional Challenge and Category P for Pastries (awarded to Spc. Leia Heeter) kept us in the running."

Sgt. Antoinette Scott, Fort Stewart, was proud of her team's third place recognition for Installation of the Year. The team challenge started before the competition, as they mustered a team of cooks together in between deployments.

"It seemed like we were almost not going to be able to come here, and it's been about five years since we've last been here," said Scott.

Scott said that each award they earned is special to a team of all first-year competitors.

"We all medaled in everything, and simply excited to have this opportunity before our next deployment," said Scott. "Even though we didn't get the gold in everything, we're happy. This is a confident team and a team that works well together. We want to come back next year."

The competition, held March 5-16, began 32 years ago to challenge military cooks to continually raise the standards of excellence and professionalism. The building where they competed, McLaughlin Hall, is named in honor of Lt. Gen. John D. McLaughlin. McLaughlin's name is synonymous with excellence in Army food service, and is credited with establishing train courses for cooks and bakers, as well as building a world-class Culinary Arts Team.

Brig. Gen. Mark A. Bellini, U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School commanding general, spoke to the competitors at the ceremony, reminding them of what McLaughlin believed.

"In 1975, Gen. McLaughlin had this vision that in order to increase confidence, we should have a little bit of competition," said Bellini. "That vision is a reality now in what you've demonstrated in the past two weeks. It is living proof that his vision is not only sound, but it's been effective. Our nation is better because of that, and your contributions and what you do when you're wearing those uniforms is important."

The competition, held annually at Fort Lee since its inception, is rated the largest culinary competition in America. This year, 17 teams competed, with more than 150 food-service professionals entering 518 exhibits, according to Maj. David Allen, director of the Army Center of Excellence, Subsistence. An unprecedented 23 Soldiers roasted, poached, baked and created culinary masterpieces in the quest to become a member of the U.S. Army Culinary Team.

"Keeping our show on the cutting edge of culinary techniques is what has kept us strong for 32 years," said Allen. "The American Culinary Federation judging standards - the toughest in the nation - are the guidelines for our competition. When they receive ACF recognition, they can truly be proud of their accomplishments and feel confident of their exceptional skills."

Winners of major competition categories are:
Installation of the Year: Fort Bliss, Texas
Senior Army Chef of the Year: Staff Sgt. Nolan Kniss, Team Pentagon
Junior Army Chef of the Year: Pvt. 1st Class Robert Capazzi, Fort Bliss, Texas
Field Cooking Competition: 1st - Fort Bliss, Texas; 2nd - Fort Bragg, N.C.; 3rd - Team Hawaii
Student Team Skills Competition: Team Korea

Winners in special categories were:
Best Exhibit Cold Food Buffet: Staff Sgt. Monica Roberts, Team Korea
Best Exhibit Hot Food Shown Cold: Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Nixon, Fort Bragg, N.C.
Best Exhibit in Pastry and Confection: Pvt. 1st Class Robert Capazzi, Fort Bliss, Texas
Best Exhibit in Culinary Showpiece: Spc. Laron Smith, Fort Bliss, Texas
Special Judges Award Most Artistic Centerpiece: Spc. Laron Smith, Fort Bliss, Texas
Best Team Buffet Table Exhibit: Team Korea
Best in Class - Contemporary Cooking: Master Sgt. Mark Morgan, Fort Benning, Ga.
Best in Class - Contemporary Pastry: Spc. Leia Heeter, Team Europe
Best Two Member Team, Nutritional Hot Food Challenge: Team Europe
Baron H. Garland Culinary Knowledge Bowl: 1st - Team Alaska, 2nd - Team Hawaii, 3rd - Fort Carson, Co.
Best Centerpiece in Ice: Sgt. 1st Class David Russ, Sgt. 1st Class Andre Rush and Cpl. Robert Lough, Fort Bragg, N.C.

(Mike Strasser writes for the "Fort Lee Traveller.")