FORT POLK -- La., Soldiers from 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division and 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade competed in a head-to-head culinary arts contest at the Patriot Inn Dining Facility Jan. 29.

The competition comes on the heels of a recent "Iron Chef" styled challenge that 4th BCT, 10th Mtn Div conducted as an intra-brigade contest. After deeming their first Iron Chef food preparation faceoff a success, Patriot Brigade DFAC management asked 1st MEB leaders about participating in a post inter-brigade culinary competition.

"Why not see if 1st MEB can compete against us," said Maj. Adrian Gamez, support operations officer, 94th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th BCT, 10th Mtn Div. "They came on board with the idea -- to highlight the talent they have at the Cajun Inn."

Sheila Casey, spouse of Gen. George W. Casey, Army Chief of Staff, headlined the judging for the brigade battle of "Iron Chefs." Other judges included Cathy Yarbrough, spouse of Brig. Gen. James C. Yarbrough, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk commanding general; Darena Greca, spouse of Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher K. Greca, JRTC and Fort Polk command sergeant major; Jennifer Antonia, spouse of Col. Bruce Antonia, brigade commander, 4th BCT, 10th Mtn Div; Sharise Spellmon, spouse of Col. Scott Spellmon, brigade commander, 1st MEB; Lt. Col. Anthony Coston, commander, 94th Brigade Support Battalion; and 1st Sgt. Terry T. Thrasher, first sergeant, 488th Quarter Master Company, 88th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st MEB.

"Major Gamez got in touch with General Yarbrough's wife about being a judge, and she said yes," explained Greca. "She e-mailed me, and I was on board. I love doing events like this."
Being a fan of the "Iron Chef" television show on the Food Network made it easier for Greca to preside as a judge for the competition. However, she did not expect what she experienced after arriving at Patriot Inn.

"These guys are fabulous. They really can cook," said Greca. "It was fun to watch what they prepared."

With ginger announced as the secret ingredient, the culinary teams had two hours, plus a few extra minutes, to prepare an entrAfAe, main course and dessert - all incorporating ginger in some way. Even though they weren't told the secret ingredient until right before they prepared their meals, one cook in particular was looking forward to the challenge.

"It is an honor to be in this competition," said Pvt. Marcus Barnes, food service specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th BCT, 10th Mtn Div. "I come from a Family of cooks, and they are very proud of me for being on this team. That pride encourages me to keep going."

The 1st MEB cooks came into their opponent's dining facility for the culinary contest. Even though they entered a "lion's den," one of the cooks was already prepared.

"I used to work down here (Patriot Inn)," said Sgt. Desmond Alfred, food service specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 88th BSB, 1st MEB. "It is good to come back and work in my old home."

The judges were allowed to enter the kitchen as each team finished preparing their meals. This gave the judges an up-close look at the work that went into the creations they were about to taste and compare.

With the deadline to finish the food quickly approaching, the teams made last-second tweaks to their dishes. The satisfaction of cooking with ingredients they might not use every day and finding new ways to cook was appreciated by participants.

"It's good for all of us to try new things, to get familiarized with new ingredients," said Pfc. Juan De Jesus, food service specialist, HHC, 46th Engineer Battalion, 1st MEB. "Bringing in new flavors to make the food better goes a long way."

The judges readied themselves as the culinary specialists from 1st MEB presented their preparations. Both teams brought the judges an entrAfAe, followed by their main course and then a dessert. The judges were blown away with the talents of the cooks, which made choosing a winner difficult.

"I kept an open mind coming into the competition," said Spellmon. "I was impressed with all of the food today."

After Patriot Inn officials tallied the judges' votes, 1st MEB won the inaugural Iron Chef competition between the two DFACs. Both teams received engraved crystal awards commemorating the competition. Even though 1st MEB won the "Iron Chef" competition, everyone involved came out a winner.

"It shines a light on the culinary program here at Fort Polk," said Sgt. 1st Class Otis Green, Fort Polk culinary arts instructor. "It lets the command here know what we (cooks) can do (and what we need to do) to learn the skill sets that other installations are using."

The Iron Chef competitors from both teams are also members of the Fort Polk culinary arts team, which will compete in an Army-wide culinary competition in March at Fort Lee, Va. The competitors are using this "battle" as a springboard toward showcasing their cooking talents on a bigger stage.

"Today's competition helps to open our eyes," said Sgt. Lee Schiefelbein, food service specialist, Company E, 94th BSB. "It will help when we have only a certain time to cook (at Fort Lee). We'll know how to cook under pressure."