SCHAUMBURG, Ill. - "Coconut'" was the common response as teams learned of the mystery ingredient at the Magnificent Mile Bistro Challenge. The event, part of the International Food Service Executive Association's 110th annual conference and trade show, was held April 1 and featured Army, Navy and college teams competing for medals and bragging rights.

The Army team consisted of participants who were attending the Philip A. Connelly Award for Excellence in Food Service ceremony and conference March 31 through April 2.

"When it comes to the mystery basket, you already have an idea of what your menu will be," Sgt. 1st Class Oscar Smith, Pegasus Inn dining facility manager, Fort Bragg, N.C., said. "The only thing you have to do is figure out how you want to properly incorporate that ingredient."

The competition, which pitted five, five-man teams in a head-to-head "Iron Chef"-style cook off, required each team to prepare a menu, gather ingredients, cook and display their culinary masterpiece in only 90 minutes.

The top four students from each group, Army, Navy and collegiate, were chosen from participants who attended culinary training at Robert Morris University Illinois the week before the event. At the university, students were challenged with mystery basket preparation, evaluated on advanced knife skills, meat preparation as well as expanded culinary terminology.

The Army team was comprised of civilian, active duty and National Guard Soldiers. Only two of the Soldiers had ever worked together before, so the team had to rely on their training to be successful.

During the competition, each team was allowed a substitute member who was not allowed to interact with the team. Mid-way through the event, the substitute was required to switch places with the team captain. This tested the ability of the team to continue with someone who was not familiar with what they were cooking.

Judges monitored and graded the progress of the teams throughout the event. Every aspect of cooking was observed and graded: preparation, menu selection, sanitation and final presentation.

The winning team, from Harper College in Palatine, Ill., created a Chicago-style dish that featured a coconut milk infused cake served with pomegranate compote for dessert.

Second place went to the Navy team as they dished up a brunch menu including a shrimp and cucumber salad, salmon and coconut French toast.

The Army team, narrowly edged out of third place, presented their gourmet-style meal which included andouille sausage (a spicy, smoked pork sausage with garlic and Cajun seasonings), coconut sweet potatoes and French green beans.

The winning teams were presented medals in recognition of their success during an evening dinner ceremony.