GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Adriano Colella, a cook at the Lawrence T. Hickey Dining Facility, here, recently threw down in an Iron Chef-style culinary competition, representing Grafenwoehr as one of only two civilians to partake in the worldwide contest.

Held annually at Fort Lee, Va., the Army Culinary Arts Competition pits the creme de la creme of military chefs against each other as they team up to create gourmet and international food. The judges awarded team and individual medals in 360 separate categories including food nutrition, technical skills and table presentation.

Because the competition is a military event and one of the largest cooking contests in the world, participation for civilians is considered a significant honor.

"This was a great thing that he got chosen for as the first civilian on the USAG Grafenwoehr team," said Guenther Melzig, civilian manager of the Lawrence T. Hickey Dining Facility. "It brings a lot of credibility to the institution."

As part of the European team, Colella battled over 20 other groups representing military bases as well as international teams from Canada and Asia. The talent and expertise, explained Colella, was formidable.

"There were some really great guys there," he said.

Colella participated in a slew of events during the three-week competition, including one where cooks used only a field kitchen to prepare a gourmet, three-course meal for 80 guests.

He especially shined in the table presentation, where he whipped up a five-course traditional Bavarian menu for the judges. Colella fixed and plated consomme with liver and grit dumplings; stuffed pork roast with pretzel dumplings; Bavarian cabbage with a beer caraway sauce; and vanilla cream with baked raspberries.

Though Colella's culinary flair passed muster for the European team, he was humbled by the talents of some of his competitors, one of whom works as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's personal chef.

Team Fort Stewart, Ga., came in first with the most collective gold medals. The European team performed admirably, raking in 19 bronze and two silver medals.

"It was the first competition for a lot of the guys on our team," said Colella, adding that several of the other teams had a wealth of experience.

After three weeks cooking alongside seasoned chefs, Colella felt his skills and creativity significantly improved.

"What I practiced and saw gave me a lot of experience," he said.

Colella was born into a culinary legacy. His German mother and Italian father run Peppo's Pizzeria in Eschenbach, Germany (about five miles northwest of Grafenwoehr), where Colella spent his formative years tooling around the kitchen.

He began his official training as a chef 11 years ago with an apprenticeship in a restaurant in Weiden. From there, he cooked at a three-star hotel in Switzerland, where he honed his fine dining repertoire before landing his position at the Hickey DFAC.

In pursuit of becoming a master chef, Colella is attending culinary school in his free time. He hopes someday to be able to manage a restaurant as well as cook in one. But, whether he's at school or at the DFAC, Colella says he's always learning.

"A lot of cooks have a lot of experience and you can learn from them," he said. "They show you something, you show them something."