NIANTIC, Conn. – Teams of Army Culinary Specialists from around the Connecticut National Guard were pit against one another in a brand-new cooking competition as the capstone to their annual Military Operational Specialty training at Camp Nett April 28, 2023.
Four teams of two entered the competition and, in the end, Sgt. Edward Hutwagner, from Headquarters Company, 192nd Military Police Battalion, and Sgt. Vincent Ruocco, from Detachment 1, 906th Quartermaster Platoon, were crowned the state’s top chefs.
“Every year we have a cooks’ class to refresh the new soldiers on the processes we go through,” said Hutwagner, who works as the director of dining at Masonicare Assisted Living Center in Wallingford outside of his military service. “I think it’s great that they added the competition just to throw in something different so they’re not just looking at slides.”
The idea for the competition came from Chief Warrant Officer 5 Brian Erkson, the state command chief warrant officer, who thought it would be a good marketing and recruiting opportunity for the Guard by inviting culinary students from the various high schools around the state to serve as judges for the competition.
“I started to develop a plan to execute [Erkson’s suggestion] and pulled ideas from T.V. shows like Chopped and Next Level Chef,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nicholas Berube, state food advisor. “When I was a judge during the ProStart Cooking Competition for the high schools, I met Chef Marc Hussey who oversees all the culinary programs at the technical schools. I asked him for his assistance in getting some of his students to be judges for our event.”
Each military cooking team had a pair of student judges assigned to their kitchen for the duration of the competition. These teams had a set list of criteria to judge, from sanitation and prep to plating and taste.
Each cooking team was provided the same three main ingredients, chicken, broccoli, and potatoes. They had five minutes to gather any other ingredients they wanted to use in their dish before being given ninety minutes to prepare, cook, and plate five servings of their recipe. In a classic cooking show move, the administrators also surprised the competitors with an additional required ingredient – a pineapple - about fifteen minutes into their cook time.
When asked about the biggest challenge his team faced during the event, Hutwagner said it was all about time management. “Time is always a challenge when you’re cooking, especially when they throw an ingredient fifteen minutes in.”
In the end, each team overcame the challenges of the competition and delivered a delicious meal that any Soldier would be happy to devour after a long day in the field.
Hutwagner and Ruocco’s winning dish was a chicken fromage stuffed with broccoli, cream cheese, and garlic topped with a chicken velouté sauce and a twice baked potato on the side. With the surprise ingredient, the duo baked a pineapple crisp for dessert.
Overall, the competitors and judges had a positive outlook on the outcome of the competition and are looking forward to seeing it grow in the future.
“It was a very pleasant experience,” said Jaidyn Brown, a senior from Ella T. Grasso Southeastern Technical High School in Groton and judge in the competition. “I’ve never really been inside a military place before and I also got to see how [Army cooks] cook and operate. It was pretty cool to watch.”
Army Culinary Specialists undergo nine weeks of advanced individual training on meal preparation, food safety, food inspection, and facility sanitation in both fixed locations and austere field environments. If you are interested in becoming an Army Culinary Specialist, contact Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nick Berube at email@example.com