SAN ANTONIO, Oct. 19, 2011 -- Army chefs from around the world are learning master-level secrets and techniques from instructors at the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio campus.

The Chef Development Program was created to improve the quality of the menus at Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation food and beverage operations and improve the level of satisfaction enjoyed by their Soldier customers.

The first Army students attended the Culinary Institute of America, or CIA, in April 2011.

"When we conceived this program in 2008, we wanted to include recognized culinary schools, such as the Culinary Institute of America, to train our Army employees," said Harper Dickson, senior program analyst with the U.S. Army Installation Management Command Family and MWR Directorate. "When IMCOM relocated to San Antonio we were fortunate to award a contract with the CIA in San Antonio."

The chefs come from garrison facilities such as quick service restaurants, officer, community and enlisted clubs and MWR-branded restaurants.

"I always dreamed about coming here (to the Culinary Institute of America), but it was too expensive for me," said Ryan Nakagawa, business manager at the Strike Zone, Fort Shafter, Hawaii. "I appreciate the opportunity the Army has given me and I can't wait to get back for the intermediate and advanced courses. It's for our Soldiers and they deserve it."

"We're trying to make good cooks into chefs," said Chef Michael Katz, CIA instructor.

Instruction starts in the classroom with overhead presentations, whiteboard diagrams and discussions. The students are eager to get into the kitchen and put academics into practice on griddles, saucepans and chopping blocks.

"I didn't expect it to be so hands-on," said Ashaleen Kennedy, operations assistant at the Custer Hill Golf Course, Fort Riley, Kansas. "We're in the kitchen five to six hours a day."

"Today we're being trained on breakfast, but I'm looking forward to the soups: beef barley or potato chowder," said Michael Lewis, assistant cook at the Java Café, Presidio of Monterey, Calif. "I like to make it fresh so the Soldiers will enjoy it better. This is my passion -- cooking, and cooking is my ticket."

"At the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio, we don't cook soups, we build them," said Katz. "We want our Army students to leave here better prepared for their jobs and to be ready as future leaders of tomorrow."