Military culinary experts – No longer ‘spoons’ or ‘cooks’

Military culinary experts – No longer ‘spoons’ or ‘cooks’

Monday, June 4, 2018

Fort Lee, Va., hosted the 43rd Annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise (JCTE) in March. More than 220 military chefs from around the world competed in this six-day training exercise.

I was fortunate enough to spend a couple days observing our culinary experts in action.

The JCTE is the largest American Culinary Federation (ACF) sanctioned event in North America, with culinary specialists attending from across our armed forces and international partners.

The Army Food Program has endured its fair share of changes since my enlistment in 1977. Gone is the M1947 Field Kitchen Tent, the M2 Burner (old version), and the ever-faithful immersion heaters.

We’ve advanced to Mobile Kitchen Trailers (MKT), Containerized Kitchens and Sanitation Centers.

Our company-size dining facilities are a thing of the past. We now have consolidated dining facilities (some that are two stories). Not all are military operated, some are contracted instead.

What hasn’t changed is the talent within our military ranks. They are no longer called “spoons” or “cooks.” They are culinary specialists, and rightfully so. There were sculptures out of chocolate and pulled sugar that rival the likes of Donatello. Yes, I said it!

Part of the competition was the MKT live cooking event. I dined with the teams from Fort Hood, Texas, and Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. The meals they prepared utilizing field kitchen equipment were nothing less than five-star quality.

Fort Hood: Shrimp Bisque with pan seared scallop, pan seared duck breast with a red wine cherry sauce and caramel macchiato cheese cake.

Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall: Carrot Ginger Soup topped with pickled fennel, Chicken Roulade with spinach, bacon and whole grain mustard and Pistachio Sponge and white chocolate mousse.

The Fort Hood team is a Cinderella story. Due to operational tempo they had little time to practice as a team.

In fact, the first time they prepared the meal utilizing field kitchen equipment was during the competition. Although the gold medal slipped away from them, they did receive the bronze medal for that day’s competition.

The Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall team was a joint team. Each member works in a different area in the Pentagon, or as an enlisted aide. They too came together with little time to practice as a team.

Their experience and well-developed plan of attack aided in their receiving the gold medal for that day’s competition.

Over 450 events took place during the exercise. If you have a passion for cooking, this is a must-see event in 2019.

Edible displays, live cooking events, guest chefs and team events are all designed to task the competitors and showcase their talents as individuals and team players.

A total of 332 gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to 232 culinary specialists. Below is a listing of special awards:

  • Judges Award for Best Overall Table (Gold) – Hawaii
  • Best Exhibit for Culinary Showpiece (Gold) – Sgt. Klinton Bautista, Joint Base Lewis McChord
  • Best in Class for Contemporary Cooking Category K Professional (Gold) – Staff Sgt. Michael Allen, U.S. Army Europe
  • Best in Class for Contemporary Pastry Category P Professional (Gold) – Sgt. Samantha Poe, Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall
  • Nutritional Hot Food Challenge (Silver) – Sgt. Joshua Hoyt and Spc. Huy Nguyen, Fort Drum
  • Military Hot Food Kitchen Competition (Gold) – Fort Drum
  • International Team Winner (Gold) – Germany
  • Student Team Skills Champion (Silver) – Coast Guard
  • Army Enlisted Aide of the Year (Silver) – Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Flemister, U.S. Army Cyber School of Excellence and Fort Gordan
  • Armed Forces Student Chef of the Year (Gold) – Pfc. Naya Pender, U.S. Army Europe
  • Armed Forces Chef of the Year (Silver) – Sgt. 1st Class Steven Behr, Fort Carson
  • Armed Forces Master Chef of the Year (Gold) – Staff Sgt. Marcpaul Susa.
  • United States Army Culinary Arts Team – Pfc. Naya Pender, U.S. Army Europe, and Specialist Katelyn Tran, Fort Carson
  • Judges Award for Best in Show – Sgt. 1st Class Lagena Boggs, Fort Drum
  • Culinary Team of the Year Runner-Up – Coast Guard
  • Culinary Team of the Year Winner – Hawaii

Because this event is sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, each participant had the chance to earn ACF certifications. The competition is based on industry standards and therefore this credential helps the dining facilities where the competitors work.

It’s a huge benefit for transitioning service members as they enter the civilian work-force.

Congratulations to all the participants. Keep on cooking!