Every year around the middle of February military cooks from every branch meet up from all over the world to compete in the military version of "Iron Chef" and this year was no different. The U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee is the largest culinary competition in the United States.
The culinary arts competition is an intense competition consisting of 25 teams, over 250 cooks competing in over 750 events, and lasting for almost two weeks. It is not just simply heating up pre-made food or serving 500 troops out of a containerized kitchen (CK). This "Iron Chef" event expresses the abilities of each cook and cooking teams in areas like Best Team Exhibit; Best Exhibit; A Special Judges Award, Most Artistic Piece; Best Overall Table Exhibit in the Competition; Nutritional Hot Food Challenge Team of the Year; Best Centerpiece in Ice; Field Cooking Team Competition; Junior Chef of the Year; Culinary Knowledge Bowl Champions; Chef of the Year; National Culinary Champion of the United States Military; National Pastry Champion of the United states Military; and Installation of the Year. It's their way of improving the quality of food service and training for all the services and also a way to recognize excellence in the culinary arts.
"It is not only an opportunity to show off what we have learned and compete against our peers; it is a real opportunity to learn. I have learned something new every day" claimed Specialist William Fadden, 214th Fires Brigade, team Sill.
The judging in this competition is incredibly tough. Judges are flown in from England, Germany, and Sweden along with many other countries to judge the competition and many of them belong to the American Culinary Federation and World Association of Chefs societies. With so many years of experience between the international judges, there was definitely a cultural flair to the competition.
Fort Sill has been competing for years now and came out in excellent fashion by taking home 34 medals from the competition. The team was comprised of cooks from the 75th and 214th Fires Brigades, 31 Air Defense Artillery, and Reynolds Army Community Hospital's dietitian.
Specialist Jonathan Apolito, a cook from 75th Fires brigade showed great promise as an upcoming chef when he competed in the Junior Chef of the year competition. In this portion of the competition the junior chef had 90 minutes to prepare, cook, plate, and present his entree. His meal was Braised rabbit with oven roasted potatoes, sautAfAed red and green bell peppers, and green beans infused with peanuts. Having never competed before and only cooking the dish once before he showed his level of expertise by receiving great praise and a silver medal from the judges.
"It was definitely a challenge and having only made the meal once before, I was a little nervous. Besides, these judges are the best of the best. It can put a little pressure on you." Spc. Jonathan Apolito, 75th Fires Brigade, Team Sill.
A change to this year's competition was the Nutritional Hot food challenge. This year the competition changed from having a planned meal to prepare, to it being a mystery basket of different meats and vegetables. The chefs had no idea what they would be receiving to cook and had to go strictly with instinct and knowledge to prepare a two course meal, having less than 750 calories, in 90 minutes. Capt. Lisa Reid and Sgt. Isaac Wilson proved their amazing abilities by creating a vegetarian sausage, mashed sweet potato cherimoya, with sautAfAed asparagus for their appetizer and a sesame crusted tuna, teff and barley pilaf, broccoli rabe and sautAfAed julienne carrots, with a mustard sauce. Unfortunately the team missed their time mark by five minutes, but still came home with a bronze medal for the event.
"I think we could have gotten a silver medal, but they start taking points away once you are past your time and we missed the 90 minute mark by five minutes." Sgt. Isaac Wilson, 75th Fires Brigade, Team Sill.
This competition is a way to showcase the chef's abilities and to learn new skills that will be taken back to their post dining facilities and utilized there. Alongside the trophies and medals that were won, some competitors received funding for credits at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The CIA is the premier culinary arts institute and will only further the chef's abilities to prepare better meals for the troops. Although Fort Sill's team did not take home the first place trophy this year, the Soldiers that participated learned many valuable tools for their trade and have their eye on the 1st place trophy next year.