FORT LEE, Va. – Eleven Iowa and Rhode Island Army National Guard Soldiers are making history at the 47th Joint Culinary Training Exercise this week. It’s the largest military culinary event in North America, and this year is the first time members of the National Guard are participating.
The JCTE is hosting participants from all U.S. military branches and international countries, including Great Britain, France and Germany. The exercise at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence is an opportunity for these Citizen-Soldiers to network with industry professionals, share best practices and drive innovation in their fields.
“It’s an honor to be able to represent not only Iowa but the National Guard for such a huge event,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Meier, platoon sergeant in Iowa’s 908th Field Feeding Platoon. “It’s literally history right now, us just stepping foot here at Fort Lee as part of the first National Guard team.”
The exercise began March 3. Meier participated in the Armed Forces Chef of the Year category that day and earned a commendable rating. The timed event allowed Meier to work with mystery ingredients and cook a full menu to present to accredited judges from the American Culinary Federation.
“I haven’t worked with Dover sole flat fish in 12 years. I’ve never broken down an entire duck, so to open up the fridge and see those are the kind of ingredients I had to work with was huge,” said Meier. “My favorite moment so far was that three hours and 35 minutes of pure cooking and getting through it.”
Staff Sgt. Stacie Baker, assigned to Iowa’s Joint Force Headquarters, shot to the top March 5, earning a gold rating in the Pastry Chef of the Year category. Baker spent months perfecting her signature apple tartlet, with her fellow Soldiers volunteering to taste each creation.
Meier said many of the younger Soldiers are in culinary arts school, so cooking in the culinary center’s labs feels familiar. But even with nice equipment at their fingertips, they’re feeling the pressure.
“We’re at a point during practices where people say, ‘We’re making this sauce for the 12th time. Why are we doing this?’” Meier said. “But it’s about muscle memory. It’s similar to other jobs in the Army — when you’re in the heat of the moment, you just do what you need to do.”
Spc. Nia James-Knight with the Rhode Island National Guard will compete in the Student Chef of the Year category. Iowa and Rhode Island Soldiers will come together to participate in more team events.
The results will be announced during an awards ceremony March 10. The JCTE will recognize individual and team efforts while providing incentives and recognition with certificates, medals, trophies and continuing education hours’ credit that can be used toward civilian credentialing.