By Bonnie Heater, Fort Gordon Public AffairsApril 12, 2012
FORT GORDON, Ga - (April 13, 2012) A Fort Gordon Soldier recently took home a Bronze medal from the largest culinary competition in North America. Sgt. 1st Class Latovia L. Wright, enlisted aide to Maj. Gen. Alan R. Lynn, U.S. Army Signal Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon commander, not only competed against fellow Soldiers, but other military food specialists in the 37th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competition held Feb 29 -- March 7 at Fort Lee, Va. "This was the first time that the Enlisted Aide of the Year competition was opened to all services," said Sgt. 1st Class Latovia Wright.
The American Culinary Federation sanctioned event featured individual and team challenges in a variety of categories. More than 300 military chefs competed in events including ice craving, nutritional challenge, student skills team, field competition, the enlisted aide of the year, junior chef of the year, and contemporary cooking categories.
Wright joined 12 enlisted aides from all services including the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy in competing for the coveted title Armed Forces Enlisted Aide of the Year. "It was nerving wrecking, but I enjoyed every minute of it," said Wright.
After Lynn received the official invitation to the competition, he encouraged Wright to compete. "By entering the competition, the general gave me an opportunity to do great things for and after I retire from the Army," said Wright. "It was truly an honor to represent Fort Gordon in the competition."
Once her acceptance was endorsed, Wright began preparing for the competition."I had to preselect the dishes I would prepare at the competition and send my menu and grocery list in advance," she said.
Knowing in advance what she was going to prepare and serve in the competition, Wright set out to perfect the meal. "I prepared the three-course meal for customers on the 9th floor of Signal Towers and gave them a customer evaluation card," she said. "I asked them to be honest with the critique and they were."
"I used their comments and suggestions to make changes in the dishes," added Wright. "I practiced making the dishes several times and I know that it really made a difference in the competition."
Once Wright arrived at Fort Lee she met the other enlisted aides, had a chance to swap stories, and was briefed on the nature of competition. The enlisted aide competition was made up of four parts: a 100-question exam (50 culinary questions and 50 enlisted aide questions); an oral board (in front of a panel of senior enlisted aide program managers); uniform assembly challenge (putting their general flag officer's uniform together by regulation); and a hot food challenge (a three course meal which includes dessert). All four parts were timed.
While the enlisted aides worked in individual work-stations, the competition took place in a large field house. "It was a huge facility," explained Wright. "Admission was free and there were a lot of people watching you during the competition."
Her favorite part of the competition was the hot food competition. "I love to cook," said the general's aide. She had a total of 90 minutes to prepare a three-course meal for four. One of the meals was for display and the other three were for the judges.
"I prepared wild phyllo mushrooms bundles for my first course," said Wright. Her entrée was seared pork with savory pomegranate sauce, potato gorgonzola gratin and balsamic herbed vegetable medley. Her dessert course was chocolate caramel pecan pie.
The hardest portion of the competition, according to Wright, was preparing the dessert. "I made my own caramel," she said. "It was a little time consuming getting it to the perfect consistency and temperature."
Wright admits if she gets a chance to compete next year she will select dishes that can be prepared easily in the allotted time. "I am trying out different dishes now," she said. "I would definitely try to prepare a dish that will wow the judges."
Coming up with a challenging menu for next year's competition is something that will come natural for Wright. She learned to cook from her grandmother who was one that never measured anything, but it always turned out right. Now Wright is able to prepare some dishes that way. "My passion for cooking started with my grandmother,' she said. "I would watch her as she prepared dishes, and now it's always a pleasure to cook for her and my mother; I do this every chance I can get away to North Carolina where they both live."
During her spare time the 15-year Army veteran also volunteers at the Golden Harvest Master's Table Soup Kitchen in Augusta. "The quality of the dishes that I prepare never changes," she said. "It remains the same whether I prepare them at Quarters 1 for the general and his spouse during official functions, at the soup kitchen or for my mother and grandmother. A good meal makes you feel good and that's my main goal in the end."
The high standard in which Wright has set for herself doesn't go under notices by the general or his wife, Brook. They have a high regard for her and her work.
"Sgt. 1st Class Latovia Wright is a trained culinary professional, having completed courses at the Culinary Institute of America," said Brook Lynn, wife of Maj. Gen. Alan R. Lynn, U.S. Army Signal Center of Excellence and Fort Gordon commander. "As a member of the Fort Gordon and Signal Center of Excellence Command Team, her expertise in the area of planning and executing official dinners and functions is outstanding. As a high performing NCO, she is an absolute joy to work alongside and I feel blessed to have been on the same team with her and so many other members of the Fort Gordon team."
The general, who depends on Wright's assistance to get him through his often 18 hour days, by maintaining his uniforms, arranging official social events, preparing meals for official functions, and performing administrative duties and record keeping, is quick to voice his appreciation of his enlisted aide.
"Sgt. 1st Class Wright has always worked very hard to represent Fort Gordon with her skill as an enlisted aide and has provided many dinners to visiting dignitaries," said Lynn. "She has exceeded her already high standard of excellence by bringing home a Bronze medal from a competition that included all the best of the best enlisted aides. She competed against all services, not just the Army, and earned a Bronze medal. She is a DOD (Department of Defense) level champion. I think she will bring back the "Gold" next year if she can bring back a "Bronze" after only one year as an enlisted aide!!" I am so proud that she is on our team!"
As for the future, it looks full of opportunities for the enlisted aide. She has been invited to go to Fort Stewart, Ga., for additional on-the-job training with Team Fort Stewart, led by Sgt. Major David J. Turcotte, which received the coveted title of Installation of the Year in this year's culinary competition. In addition, the general has arranged for her to attend the American Culinary Federal Regional Northeast Conference April 28-30 in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
"This competition and future opportunities paves the way for me to grow as a food service professional and truly I appreciate the command team's unwavering support," said Wright.