FORT LEE, Va. (March 8, 2012) -- Over the past five years, what's now known as the Military Culinary Arts Competition has evolved from a predominately Army and Marine Corps event to one that has attracted all of the armed services.

And it keeps extending its reach.

This year, the MCAC included its first international category within the event, attracting teams from the United States, Canada and Germany. Although more teams were slated to participate, it was a good start to an effort intended to add a little spice to the showcase of military food services, said Sgt. Maj. Mark Warren, Joint Culinary Center of Excellence.

"It enhances the competition because it is a better venue to address our most senior chef skills," he said.

Much of the MCAC is tailored toward junior food service personnel, helping them develop skills to better serve their respective military organizations. The Armed Forces Chef of the Year is one of a few events aimed at senior chefs.

Two veterans of that competition, Sgt. Maj. Mark Morgan and Master Sgt. Jesus Camacho, both members of the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team, represented the U.S. Armed Forces in the inaugural event. They earned a gold medal and won the competition, but it wasn't an easy task, said Camacho.

"I've been in other competitions in Germany and it's been great. I'm very proud to do it," he said. "But it's harder competing here because we're in front of our peers -- our own American Soldiers. That is more pressure than going to Germany and going up against international competition because that's an audience that doesn't know you."

Master Cpl. Chiu Tsang, one half of the Canadian team, said the event was more than a competition. It's an opportunity to share his skills with the other contestants.

"It's an honor to be chosen to represent my country," he said. "It's not so much winning or losing but having the opportunity to share our culinary background, our knowledge and to see what the other countries are doing. It's been an eye-opener."

Warren said it's been an eye-opener for the junior food service personnel as well because they were treated to seeing chefs perform at a very high level.

"It shows young Soldiers who come here the level of expertise required to compete at a national or international event," he said.

Warren said the USACAT team, which typically performs at the Culinary World Cup and the Culinary Olympics in Europe, has traditionally been the principal means to mentor young chefs. The international competition at the MCAC will touch the multitudes of young chefs beyond the USACAT team.

"This is another venue in which the young Soldiers can see what the most senior talented chefs in the Army can do on any given day in head-to-head competition against other services," Warren said.

Morgan said the MCAC can only benefit from an international presence in the future.

"This will open the door for other teams and countries to participate," he said. "I think it expands the venue."

The plan to increase the international presence in future competitions was confirmed by Chief Warrant Officer 5 Russell Campbell, USACAT team manager and the primary MCAC organizer this year.

"We definitely want to make this a tradition," he said. "Perhaps it will be in a different format or even on a field cooking platform. In a few weeks, we will start taking a serious look at what we will do for next year, so we can ensure we have everything in place to make it successful."