FORT LEE, Va. (March 13, 2013) -- Several budding chefs competed for the Armed Forces Student Chef of the Year title March 7-13 during the 38th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event here.

These culinarians show off their abilities by preparing and serving four helpings of a single entrée to a panel of judges. They have 70 minutes to prepare the entire entry.

Each team competing for Culinary Team of the Year has to have a student competitor. The competition aims to stimulate interest and test the level of the student chef's skill in live cooking. It also shows their basic understanding of cooking fundamentals.

After the student chefs are finished, they receive a critique from the judges' panel to discuss the dish and get tips on how to improve their work.

The student chef event usually features food preparers who are at their first competition and are under a certain age.

First-time competitor Spc. Stephany Lopez from Team Hawaii made an heirline chicken breast stuffed with cream cheese, spinach and onion with two sauces and accompanied by saffron rice and spiced green beans.

"I think I did well," said Lopez, after she received her critique. "I accomplished a lot because the judges said they loved the food. Time-wise, it wasn't what I wanted because I ran long, but I'm pleased with how I did."

The event made Lopez realize how different it was to compete in front of an audience compared to practicing at home.

"I learned so much while competing because it taught me how different it is between your kitchen and competitive cooking," she said. "I definitely want to come back to learn more."
Lopez earned a bronze medal for her efforts.

Another first-time competitor, Air Force Staff Sgt. Ciara Horn was the only airman on her team from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

"When they had try-outs for the team, I was the only Air Force person going for it," she said. "I felt like I was put on the team by default because they couldn't compete as a joint base with only Soldiers. I thought they had to have me."

Horn said she showed the team she had a passion for food preparation, and her efforts paid off. She earned a gold medal during the event.

"I was overwhelmed," said Horn, after learning she received a gold medal. "I'm sure everyone could see my excitement due to the tears streaming down my face. I went into this expecting nothing, and to pull that off was really heartwarming. It solidifies something that I didn't think was possible."

Growing up cooking with her mother helped develop Horn's passion for food preparation, but it wasn't until she started training with the team where she developed her top-notch culinary skills.

"I'm definitely not the kind of mom who tournes a potato for her children or makes fresh pasta all the time, but (these skills) help me expand more beyond this at my home station," she said. "It was a great experience training for this event. "

So far, several student chefs have earned gold medals for their efforts. The overall Armed Forces Student Chef of the Year will be announced at the awards ceremony Friday.