ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Aug. 12, 2010) -- The U.S. Army defended its culinary crown when a two-man team representing the service was judged champions of the second Freedom Chef Challenge, Aug. 3, held during the 2010 American Culinary Federation National Convention in Anaheim, Calif.

Sgt. 1st Class Rene Marquis, enlisted aide for the U.S. Special Operations Command, and Sgt. Matthew Flemister, enlisted aide to Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., won the competition ahead of teams from the Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.

The Army team was judged on four of seven courses consisting of ingredients from a common pantry and from the challenge's mystery bag. This year the mystery bag's theme was protein and included pheasant, duck, grouper, yellow-tailed snapper and rabbit.

Every team had 30 minutes to review the mystery basket, write a menu and gather ingredients. They had 3 hours to cook and serve their dishes, leaving 30 minutes to clean their stations.

"We worked for a couple of weeks on menus," Marquis said. "We had a menu that was completed before even walking into the competition."

The Army team bounced menu options off each other and developed a simple plan in the weeks leading up the competition. This year's challenge was more intense because it was officially sanctioned by the ACF.

Winning an ACF nationally-sanctioned event can lead to medals and achievement points resulting in certifications and advancement within the federation.

The contest was still fun, but being sanctioned changed the whole philosophy and the competition became much more serious, Marquis said.

Marquis, along with Sgt. Maj. David Turcotte, advanced skills sergeant major for the military's Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, took first place for the Army during the first freedom challenge held in 2008.

With Turcotte now serving as chair of ACF's competition committee, he removed himself from this year's contest. Flemister, who worked with Marquis during the 2004 Culinary Olympics, was asked to compete.

"It was a wonderful opportunity," Flemister said. "I was honored they thought to include me at the tip of the spear representing the Army."

Marquis and Flemister were just part of the Army's overall presence at the ACF convention. Three noncommissioned officers acted as judges for other culinary competitions, an Army dietitian delivered a seminar on food, nutrition and health and representatives from the U.S. Army Center for Excellence, Subsistence participated in the event.

"It really was wonderful to see the Army there showing the civilian chefs what we can do," Flemister said. "I don't think they fully understand that we're competing on the same level."

After winning gold and silver medals at the Culinary Olympics with the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team, acting as judges at ACF functions, and amassing nearly 40 years of professional culinary experience between them, Marquis and Flemister are excited about the future.

"The next goal for me is to win Armed Forces Senior Chef of the Year," Flemister said.

Marquis said he hasn't decided whether he'll defend his title in the next freedom challenge, but said the Army is well-represented, and he's certain he'll compete again elsewhere.

"Once you compete and you're good at, if you stop competing, then you start to lose your edge," Marquis said.