Specialist Isis Fisher hoped hot dogs trimmed with toppings inspired by French Onion Soup would be winners in a cook-off between Rakkasan culinary specialists.
“At first, I didn’t think hot dogs would be a good competition,” said Fisher, culinary specialist assigned to 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) as she carefully prepped her ingredients. “But I’m about to win.”
Fisher’s team hoped their two creations – French Dip Dog and Hawaiian Dog – would help them beat out six other teams who braved hot July 15 temperatures to cook outdoors.
The cook-off was a chance to not only showcase the Soldiers’ culinary talents and creativity but to train on field feeding equipment.
They had a month to come up with something delicious that was easy enough to prepare using that equipment.
Specialist Joshua Hope, culinary specialist assigned to 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, said the exercise was the first chance he had to work with his team under field feeding conditions.
“This is called the Desert Dog,” he said, taking a bite of one to make sure it was up to par for the panel of 3rd BCT leaders who served as judges.
The bacon-wrapped dog was topped with banana peppers, tomatoes, bell peppers and a mix of mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard. The Mohave Desert, where Hope grew up, inspired the hot dog, he said.
“I wanted to mix breakfast with lunch so I added bacon,” Hope said. “I like spicy stuff so I added salsa mixes until I found one I love.”
Although he typically works inside the Rakkasan dining facility, Hope did not mind manning a hot field kitchen outside, while also wearing a face mask required to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Doing something like this helps me evaluate how my team will work in the field, as well as practice my leadership skills and help train other Soldiers to be better than me,” he said.
Although the bacon drew praises from some judges, another team had a secret ingredient that could not be ignored.
“We’re making a pulled pork hot dog,” said Spc. Keilah Jones, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, as she raced the clock to have the culinary creation ready for judging. “We came up with it together.”
Although Jones has cooked in the field before, she had never used the equipment supplied for the contest outside the Rak Cafe.
The competition was aimed at giving Soldiers the opportunity to use field feeding equipment, specifically the Assault Kitchen equipment, they might not be as familiar with and to spark their creativity, said Sgt. 1st Class Elma Morales, Rak Cafe dining facility manager assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd BCT.
For the competition each team of three culinary specialists created two uniquely topped hot dogs for judging along with extras for hungry Soldiers at the dining facility. The teams were judged on creativity, name of the hot dog, ingredients used and execution, Morales said.
This is the second year the Rak Cafe has hosted a competition using field feeding equipment, last year the Soldier-chefs created three-course meals.
The hot dog is such a simple ingredient that it proved to be a challenge that tested competitors’ creativity. Hot dogs were picked this year because they are a summer favorite and to commemorate National Hot Dog Day on July 22, Morales said.
Major Bridget Day, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd BCT, asked for a palate cleanser after trying her first hot dog inside the Rak Cafe on A Shau Valley Road.
“I’m looking for creativity – a mixture of crunch, flavor and juiciness,” Day said as she prepared to score the first set of hot dogs. “I’m looking for a flavor explosion.”
It is a challenge for culinary specialists to prepare food in the field and make it different, she said.
“To make a hot dog gourmet is a challenge, but I think they’re up for it,” Day said. “Hmm, I don’t like this one. I love it.”
The Desert Dog from 3-187th Inf. Regt. inspired Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hicks, 1st Squadron, 33rrd Calvary Regiment, 3rd BCT, make satisfied sounds as he judged.
“When you put bacon on something, you can’t neglect it,” Hicks said. “That’s a really good bacon-wrapped dog.”
He gave the Desert Dog the highest scores for taste, cleanliness and appearance and said the creators needed to work on their verbal presentation.
Specialist Jatone Harris, culinary specialist assigned to 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, was not intimidated by the other gourmet dogs he saw. He felt good about his team’s Iron Dog topped with tomatoes, onions, relish, pickles, banana peppers and mustard. And Harris considered his team’s other dog – piled high with barbecue – was unbeatable.
“Our pulled pork was smoked overnight for six hours and then we finished off on the field equipment,” Harris told the judges.
The team was thrilled when they were handed the Golden Dipper trophy and a four-day pass for winning first place.
“We had the most original hot dog,” Jones said. “It shows what our equipment can do, and I learned a lot.”
Harris said he will now be more confident preparing food in the field.
“I feel like we put our all in both hot dogs,” he said. “This is my first time working on the Assault Kitchen equipment. I’ve done training with it but never gone to the field with it.”
Fisher’s 1-33rd Cav. Regt. team placed second with their French Dip and Hawaiian dogs.
She said many of the participants were new to the equipment but thanks to the exercise are better prepared, confident and creative.