PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - A finalist from last year's Picatinny Master Chef competition is getting fired up and ready to start cooking again for this year's Army Emergency Relief Chili Cook-Off benefit event March 4 at the Cannon Gate Catering and Conference Center.

Last year Picatinny's food service chefs held a Master Chef competition open to all installation employees and family members who wanted to test their cooking skills and possibly advance their talents to a higher level.

The first round of elimination was held last year in February and it was there that Alicia Morante and Doug Wong would claim victory and move on to the final round.

In that semi-final round, Morante took first place with mini-pot pies and Wong took second after choosing to cook duck for the tasters.

With their wins, the two amateur chefs each earned the title of Picatinny Master Chef along with a "Picatinny Master Chef " jacket.

Morante and Wong advanced in the competition as a team.

However, they would fall to Picatinny chefs Luis Arango and Bill Mahony by a close judge's score of 48-42.

The competition brought Morante one step closer to her dream of turning her hobby and passion for cooking into a full-time job.

"I started learning how to cook with the easy items, eggs and breakfast foods, by watching my mother."

"Ever since I was a kid I have been cooking and I just started doing it as a business," Morante said.

Morante is a System Analysis and Program Workflow Specialist for the Program Executive Office for Ammunition.

A graduate of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Morante said that cooking is her real passion.

"I started my own business, an upscale personal catering business. Sometimes I cook on site and sometimes I deliver," Morante said.

"I usually prepare dinners on a nightly basis but I have also thrown together meals where the customer just has to pop it in the oven."

Several years ago, Picatinny's Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation Directorate held a competition allowing entrants to submit a chili recipe.

The restaurant chefs would prepare it for tasters, who would vote on a winner.

Morante won the competition with her "Super Slack Chili," a steak-based chili that she will use in this year's Army Emergency Relief Campaign Chili cook-off.

Historically, the chili competition has been the kick-off event for Picatinny's campaign for the Army's own emergency financial assistance organization, which is dedicated to helping the Army take care of its own.

The 2012 AER Chili Cook-Off attracted 18 competitors and raised $883 for the emergency relief campaign in just one-and-a-half hours. At the end of the competition, Ted Cole was declared the victor with his masterpiece, "Ted's Sweet and Spicy Chicken Chili."

Cole will return to this year's competition and defend his title March 4, when he takes on Morante and other challengers for the right to be crowned the 2013 AER Chili King.

To sign up for the competition or for more information contact Marci Keck at marci.l.keck.civ@mail.mil or 973-724-2145. All entries must be received by Feb. 28.


Favorite Food(s) to Prepare: Corn Chowder, Steak with a Reduction Sauce

Least Favorite Food(s) to Prepare: Squid. Also hates preparing fresh lobster because she does not like that she has to kill it.

Languages: Besides English she speaks Chinese, French, Hindi, and Spanish.

Hobbies: Ice skating, playing piano, golf, skiing and snowboarding

Interests: Takes in stray cats and raises money to help spay or neuter them. Has already taken in 17 cats.

Tattoos: Morante has seven tattoos each revolving around specific areas throughout the country she has visited. So far she has acquired tattoos in Jefferson, N.J., Davenport, Iowa, Washington D.C., Phoenix, Ariz., Chicago, Ill., and most recently Naples, Fla.