By Spc. George WelcomeJune 2, 2008
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (Army News Service, June 2, 2008) - The love of food, both preparing and serving, coupled with a dose of friendly competition, led to Bagram's first Iron Chef competition, held at the Aviation Dining Facility on May 28.
Based on the Food Network's 'Iron Chef' series, the competition pitted two teams of food-service specialists, one representing Task Force Destiny (101st Combat Aviation Brigade), the other, Task Force Lifeliner (101st Sustainment Brigade), against each other.
"I am a big fan of the show, so I was asked by my commander to plan the whole event and I've run with it every since," said 1st Lt. Nathan Schroeder, medical platoon leader and company executive officer of Headquarters Company, 96th Aviation Support Battalion. "We are limited...as far the foods we have access to and cooking space, so the initial planning was difficult. I am quite happy with how everything has turned out."
Shortly after the afternoon meal, the two teams were called into the back room of the dining facility, where they faced off as they were given the rules. Then the moment they anxiously awaited arrived, the unveiling of the "secret ingredient": bell peppers, in vivid red, yellow and green.
The two teams then parted to prepare their stations and utensils. When the official time keeper gave word to start, the kitchen instantly became busy with motion. They would have three hours to prepare a main dish and entrees, using the secret ingredient in each.
"We were excited when we found out about the competition," said Sgt. Armando Marshall, of 101st Sustainment Bde.'s Task Force Lifeliner. Marshall has won several culinary competitions and said coming up with a strategy was fairly easy.
"We got together and discussed some ideas for what kind of meals we would like to make, he said. "In all, it took about two days for planning."
Task Force Destiny's strategy was to take the competition in stride, and not get side tracked by the opponent.
"It was like a normal thing for us," said Spc. William Lucas, as he prepared to grill sliced vegetables. "We came up with our recipe today. (Lifeliner) brought in some Navy and Air Force guys, like that was supposed to scare us. We've got some experienced cooks on our team, and people always tell us our food is good, so I think we'll win."
"This competition was a blast. I'm glad we are doing this because it breaks up the monotony." said Sgt. William Smetak, of Team Destiny as he poured chocolate mousse onto a plate. "I knew that I would be handling the pastries because that's what I do."
As the minutes ticked by, cooks raced back and forth across the stainless steel kitchen floor, preparing the meals they hoped would propel their teams to victory.
"I'm excited about this competition because it gives me a chance to do my job. Right now I'm working in the mailroom," joked Pfc. Christina Howard, of Team Lifeliner, as she seasoned yellow peppers. "Believe it or not, peppers were one of the ingredients we planned to use in case it was the secret ingredient, so we planned really well."
By 4:30 p.m., with 30 minutes left, each team had finished cooking their meals and began to work on presentation. As presentation was part of the judging criteria, the teams took great care to ensure that their meals were not only delicious, but visually appealing. They began to bring the food into the dining room fifteen minutes later.
Finally, the three judges arrived and were seated: Brig. Gen James McConville, deputy commanding general-staff, 101st Airborne Division; Brig. Gen. James Holmes, commanding general of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing and Mr. Robert Maggi, political advisor to Combined Joint Task Force-101.
At 5:00 p.m., a coin toss decided Task Force Destiny would serve first.
Team captain Staff Sgt. Billie Jean Afflick presented the meal: seasoned grilled turkey and asparagus served with a grilled bell pepper stuffed with sautAfAed rice. After eating for several minutes, the judges used their secret score card to give points to the meal.
Next, Sgt. 1st Class Catherine Heidrich, captain of Team Lifeliner, presented a meal of beef with a rice pate and a stuffed bell pepper. Once again, the judges began eating and critiquing the meals. Once they finished, they used their score cards to make their decisions.
Before the winner was announced, the members of each team received the Army Achievement Medal for their efforts. Then moment everyone was waiting for arrived.
The ballots were in: Team Destiny won the presentation category, but Team Lifeliner won both the taste and originality categories and was named the 2008 Bagram Airfield Iron Chef Champions.
The room exploded in applause and cheers from both sides. Both teams had proven their talents. One judge explained that the meals he had eaten during the event were some of the best he had tasted anywhere.
"I have had the opportunity to eat at many special functions and state dinners," said Maggi. "Nothing I've have ever eaten at any of those dinners compared to the meals we were able to eat here tonight."
(Spc. George Welcome serves with 101st CAB Public Affairs Office.)