JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – After COVID-19 cancelled the annual competition last year, military chefs from all over the world are preparing to compete at this year’s Joint Culinary Training Exercise at Fort Lee, Virginia.
One chef in particular is Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles Camantigue, 627th Force Support Squadron, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“I come from very humble beginnings,” Camantigue said. “Just a few years ago, I was a delivery boy for my mom’s cafeteria back in the Philippines. The front of the cafeteria was where I went to school, so I would go back and forth delivering food to all the teachers.”
He credits his mom for being the inspiration behind his passion for cooking and serving people.
Camantigue joined the Air Force in 2017, when his family was awarded a visa to come to the United States.
“I feel extremely fortunate to be here; coming from a different country was a little scary,” he said. “Being so familiar with Filipino-style cooking and having to learn a new way was hard. My mentor really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and start competing.”
The JCTE is an exclusive competition that displays the talents within the Department of Defense culinary field from around the globe. Military representatives from over 90 countries are invited to participate.
Celebrities and four-star generals have been among the attendees, and winning participants have been prominently featured in the national media.
Camantigue was selected to compete with the only all-Air Force team. The team is made up of Airmen from five bases. This is the first time in 46 years that an all-Air Force team will compete in the JCTE. The team would have competed last year, but the competition was canceled due to the pandemic.
Master Sgt. Amanda Brodeur, Air Force team manager assigned to Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., said Camantigue was selected by retired Senior Master Sgt. Jeffery Fritz, who was the team manager for last year’s team.
“I took over for (Fritz) after his retirement and had reached out to Staff Sergeant Camantigue to see if he was still interested in being on the team, and he was,” Brodeur said.
This is not the first cooking competition for Camantigue. In 2019, he competed on the student team in the JCTE. The team brought home quite a few medals.
“I know Staff Sergeant Camantigue has competed in culinary competitions before,” Brodeur said. “He’s really talented, and I know if he was selected by Senior Master Sergeant Fritz, then he must have known Camantigue would be a great asset to have on the team.”
Competing chefs bring many different styles of cooking to the competition. With more than 100 participating chefs, no one dish will be the same. Every chef has also been trained differently.
“I do worry sometimes that more civilian chefs have an advantage because they are free to train and work anywhere and cook any cuisine, (but) military chefs have more strict cooking criteria.” Camantigue said. “I always stick with my gut and go for more Asian and Filipino-style dishes first, then go for more Hawaiian-type dishes during competitions, but we get to practice a bit at the event before the competition.”
The training event leading up to the competition is intended to provide team members with vital knowledge and experience necessary for the competitive environment. It also serves to build a cohesive team that can successfully compete against the other services.
Chefs can take back what they learn to their duty stations and possibly share that knowledge with other chefs.
“He brings a lot of different ideas and thought processes on how to cook something,” said Senior Airman Samantha Duensing, 627th FSS food service journeyman. “He’s definitely a team player and a great hands-on teacher; I love working with him.”
International teams and U.S. military personnel from all branches of service will create table displays, hors d'oeuvres, main entrees and desserts during the 46th meeting of the JCTE set for March 2 to 11.