FORT HOOD, TX -- It's time to start training for the largest military culinary competition in North America - the 45th annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise. This event features ice sculptures, pastries, seafood and edible centerpieces. Out of more than 600 culinary specialists on Fort Hood, 11 of 1st Cavalry Division's most elite chefs were chosen.
"I always try and tell Soldiers there's a pride in being a cook," explains Sgt. Sean Lange, the culinary team training non-commissioned officer.
"At the end of the day, food is what keeps the fighting force going--it makes everybody happy and I consider that a challenge but also a reward for us."
This training event not only provides the opportunity for Soldiers to raise culinary excellence and professionalism, but also incentives and recognition in the form of certificates, medals, trophies, and credentialing through the American Culinary Federation.
In order to be selected as part of the culinary team, there's a list of requirements that need to be met.
"Not only do you have to be an outstanding chef, but you also have to be an outstanding Soldier," explains Private 1st Class Cody Adams, competitor for student chef of the year.
Adams, who competed last year for student chef of the year, earned Bronze and now uses his experience to train other Soldiers.
Soldier skills such as physical fitness, weapons qualification, commander's recommendation and a written biography, all play a role in your acceptance into the program.
Most culinary specialists in the Army work in dining facilities, following very precise recipe cards ensuring all Soldiers receive proper nutrition.
However, when trying-out for the culinary team, it tests each Soldier's creativity as a chef.
"You do a mystery basket, four-course meal in three hours and a panel of judges will judge your plates," explains Adams.
A typical training day for the Soldiers on the culinary team includes ingredient preparation, student skills, classical knife cuts, chicken and fish fabrications and composing what you get from those skills and coming up with individual dishes.
"We train Monday through Friday and we time everything we do," explains Adams. "We have to train how we would fight, essentially."
When Soldiers join the culinary team, it allows them to have fun, explains Lange.
"Here you're actually able to hone your craft and do different things with your food that you can't do at the D-FAC."
The competition is held over the course of a week, holding events such as the military hot kitchen food challenge, the nutritional hot food challenge, which is 850 calories and below, the student skills team, student chef of the year and senior chef of the year.
The 45th Annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise will be held March 7-12 in Fort Lee, Virginia.