By T. Anthony BellMarch 4, 2010
FORT LEE, Va. (March 4, 2010) -- In the first episode of the Pentagon Channel show, "The Grill Sergeants," Sgt. 1st Class Brad Turner Jr. stuffed an uncooked turkey, took a half step back from the stove and rendered a casual but snappy salute to the bird.
"I needed to give him the honor that he deserved," said a chuckling Turner of the moment. "He gave his life for the cause."
It was a signature move for the New Orleans native, and one of many that would come to characterize his style and personality on the ground-breaking military food show. Now two and a half years, many episodes and several media appearances later, Turner is still bringing on his distinctive mix of culinary wherewithal, physical animation and humor to audiences all over the world.
The Army food service noncommissioned officer will put his entire repertoire on display March 6-10 when he makes appearances during the open-to-the-public shows of 35th Army Culinary Arts Competition being held at Fort Lee through March 12.
Fort Lee is an old stomping ground of Turner's. He was assigned here from 2005-2008 as a food service instructor and platoon sergeant in the Quartermaster School's 23rd Quartermaster Brigade. Turner was known throughout the schoolhouse as an instructor with a lively, entertaining manner, someone who could spice up any program of instruction simply by being himself.
That reputation got him an audition for "The Grill Sergeants," one of a few shows that would run on the fledgling Pentagon Channel in early 2008. A combination of talent, skill and a way with audiences convinced producers he was the man for the show. Turner saw the show as an extension of himself - someone who loves to cook and entertain.
"It's so natural for me," he said. "The guy singing, clowning - that's me. It's not scripted. Not one show is scripted. Everything is just coming out and flowing."
Flowing like his Louisiana vernacular and singing skills. Turner constantly uses the expressions "Ooo,wee and wow!" and "Mo better" on the show just as he does off camera. And he's broken out in song on more than one occasion during taping. It didn't hurt that he is an experienced singer who won the 2007 Fort Lee Military Idol, a takeoff of the popular "American Idol" TV show.
Indeed, Turner's skills have helped "The Grill Sergeants" take off. The show began taping at Fort Lee but eventually moved to other locations such as Hyde Park, New York and San Diego, Calif., to capitalize on its growing viewership.
Turner moved as well - to Korea in February 2008 for a one-year tour. Several shows were taped prior to his departure, so he continued as a host on the show but now shares the spotlight with other military members.
Since Turner has returned to the states, the 19-year Soldier has appeared as the Grill Sergeant on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" and the Fox Network's "Fox and Friends" morning show. Both shows have access to millions of viewers.
Those achievements, however, were mere appetizers for a special Turner thought he was doing for the Food Network in July of last year. With the cameras rolling, Turner was preparing a chicken and potato salad dish in front of food service students at Fort Lee when Bobby Flay, the Food Network's "Throwdown! With Bobby Flay" host, appeared and challenged him to a barbecue chicken cook-off. Without a doubt, Flay's appearance was a humbling validation for all that Turner has put into his profession.
"It came home to me when I stood on that set that day ... and Bobby Flay came walking up," said Turner. "At that point, everything in my culinary universe became clear."
Turner and Flay's chicken was judged and the winner was revealed on an episode that aired about two months after the taping. Flay won the battle, but Turner was satisfied that his wicked, yellow barbecue sauce could "throwdown" with the best of them.
"He (Flay) said, 'I don't know how I won this,'" recalled Turner, after Flay tasted his creation. "He was genuine about that and didn't have to say it."
He didn't have to include Turner's recipe in his cookbook either. The recipe will be included with Flay's favorites from other episodes of "Throwdown," said Turner.
Turner is currently the manager of the Pentagon Executive Dining Facility. His customers are not the regular Soldiers with whom he learned to perfect his skills. He said he can't wait to dive back into the ranks and soak up the moments with his peers. The Culinary Arts Competition provides him with that opportunity.
"The biggest thing for me is now I'm in a place where there will be Soldiers saying, 'If Sergeant Turner can do it, and he was trained in the Army, I can do it, too,'" said Turner.
Turner is currently weighing retirement options but continues to tape segments of "The Grill Sergeants."