Army Reserve food specialists among finalists at culinary competition

By Maj. Thomas Piernicky | 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) | Jan. 30, 2019

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers with the 370th Transportation Company competed in the 51st Philip A. Connelly Competition, here, on Saturday January 26, 2019.

The Philip A. Connelly Program is the personification of food service excellence executed by culinary specialists resulting in the presentation of extremely gratifying dining experiences across all Army food service platforms in garrison and field environments. For more information on the Philip A. Connelly Program, visit http://www.quartermaster.army.mil/jccoe/Special_Programs_Directorate/Philip_A_Connelly/P_A_Connelly_main.html.

The food service specialists of the 370th Transportation Company beat out hundreds of other teams from across the Army to end up one of the four finalists. Cpt. Richard Rivera, the commander of the 370th TC said the team had been on location all week setting up the site and enhancing their skills. To win the Connelly trophy would be a significant accomplishment for his food service team.

“It would mean a lot,” said Rivera.  “These guys have been out here doing a lot of work. They take great pride in what they do.”

The team was assigned a menu of items to prepare for the event. Each soldier on the team is assigned tasks to ensure all pieces of the meal are completed.

“I’m making the chicken teriyaki along with help from SPC Cardenas,” said Pfc. Joe-Izaak Castanon, a food service specialist. “We’re making the broccoli, the steamed brown rice, and the chicken egg drop soup.”

Castanon and Cardenas made the teriyaki chicken by mixing soy sauce, water, pineapple juice, black pepper and fresh cut ginger. Having made the recipe before, Castanon is confident in the outcome.

“We have no qualms with how the food is going to taste, but we only need to make sure it gets out on time and we do it safely,” said Castanon.

With their work area being small, the team must work together in tight quarters to finish the meal preparation within a set amount of time or they lose points. The team only has two ovens and requires the team to plan the order of what to cook first.

“The hardest part of the whole challenge is making sure we have everything set on time,” said Spc. Abigail Cardenas, a food service specialist.

Despite the small workspace and stringent timeline, Cardenas loves her work.

“It is a wonderful learning experience,” said Cardenas. “You get to learn to cook new products and basically get to expand your knowledge of food.”

The Connelly Competition is a great way to test the skills of the Army food service personnel. Each team is scored by a team of Army personnel and a civilian representative from the National Restaurant Association.

“The Philip A. Connelly Program is a partnership between the Army and the National Restaurant Association which promotes education, team work, and the overall improvement of food service in the military,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Pamela Null, the US Army Reserve Command Food Service Advisor.

“It provides an opportunity for our soldiers to compete and show off what they do every day in the Army, ultimately leading to better readiness in the Army,” said Null.    

Having civilian judges from the National Restaurant Association provides an outside perspective for how the military approaches food preparation.

“From the civilian side, we are looking at the quality of food and how engaged the cooks are and the team is with them,” said Gayle Swain of the National Restaurant Association.

Swain appreciates the chance to get out and interact with the military food service specialists. She likes to educate military personnel about careers after the military. Swain said civilian employers love to hire military personnel for specific qualities like working in a team, showing up on time and already having food service experience.

“If they do decide that eventually they want to separate from the military, that there is a very viable career out there in the food service industry,” said Swain.

With the soldier fed and the judges satisfied, the 370th’s food service specialists must wait for the final grading results which will be released this spring. The winning team gets to attend the National Restaurant Association’s award dinner in Chicago where they will be recognized for their achievements and they will receive a large trophy. Additionally, two food service specialists will get additional training with the NRA learn how the industry does food service to heighten their skills.

“For a team to win this competition is pretty much the highest award you can get in food service in today’s Army,” said Null.

The 370th’s food service specialists know they have tough competition but have high confidence they can win.

“At this point it would mean a lot,” said Castanon. “Our team here has worked really hard. Honestly, it is our Super Bowl.”

The 370th Transportation Company is part of the 319th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), 79th Theater Sustainment Command. The 4th ESC is made up of Soldiers, civilians and their families in units headquartered throughout Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. As part of America’s Army Reserve, these units are trained, combat-ready and equipped to provide military and logistical support in any corner of the globe.