CONNEAUT LAKE, Pa. – No matter how hot, no matter how humid, no matter how badly the air conditioner needs to be switched on, there’s always one place that makes the outside feel a little cooler – the kitchen.
Behind the Keystone Training Facility, located in northwestern Pennsylvania, tucked away in the forest along a dirt road, soldiers from the 542nd Quartermaster Company, slaved over hot stoves for the Philip A. Connelly Awards competition at the Army Reserve Command level.
The 542nd QM Company represents the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Coraopolis, Pa., one of 16 ESCs participating in the USARC level competition.
“The importance of these kind of events is to get the soldiers to perform their (military occupational specialty) at the level that they need to be at,” said Maj. Jose Selciano, company commander of the 542nd Quartermaster Company. “We’ve got soldiers that just came out of (advanced individual training), and they’ve never been exposed to this level of experience.”
The Connelly Awards, named after the late Philip A. Connelly, aims to provide recognition for excellence in preparing and serving food in both field and garrison environments. It serves to improve professionalism of food service personnel, as Connelly labored to do in both the civilian and military food services industries. Connelly chaired the Armed Forces Service Committee and received the Peter Gust Economou Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Industry Food Service in 1962.
It’s not just a recreation of Iron Chef; in addition to food preparation, evaluators look at training, accounting procedures, storage, sanitation, command support, appearance, serving, site layout and equipment. If the 542nd QM Company wins this round, they will be selected to move on to the Department of the Army level.
“The hardest part is time management,” said Sgt. Tasha Matter, a food service specialist for the 542nd QM Company and head cook for the competition. “You’ve got to make sure everything gets done in the proper order and gets done properly.”
The cooking team prepared a meal to satisfy every corner of the food pyramid. Water rushed over bushels of fruits and vegetables as the heat of pre-warming ovens and stoves swelled within the kitchen in preparation for the innumerable hunks of chicken. The chop-chop-chop of knives upon cutting boards rattled amid the ever-present hissing of rising steam, and the stomping of boots let anyone outside the kitchen know they cooks never stood idle.
“It’s great for them ,” said Selciano, a native of Puerto Rico now living in Erie, Pa. “We’re going to be able to show we’re ready to go whenever we need to.”
There are five evaluation categories: active Army large garrison, active Army small garrison, active Army field kitchen, Army Reserve field kitchen and Army National Guard field kitchen.
The International Food Service Executives Association co-sponsors the Connelly Awards along with the Department of the Army. IFSEA also helps evaluate the finalists and presents awards. The Department of the Army will announce winners Dec. 11 in Chicago, Ill.
“Cooking is soothing,” said Pvt. 1st Class Diane Cruz, a food services specialist with the 542nd QM Company. “I really enjoy it.”