September 26, 2015 –
WASHINGTON - Members of the Army Reserve Culinary Arts Team put their skills to the test against 15 other teams that represented all branches of service at the 12th Annual Military Culinary Competition hosted by the Military Hospitality Association at the Barracks Row Fall Festival in Washington, D.C., Sept. 26, 2015.
The Army Reserve Culinary Arts Team has participated in the competition since 2007, the first year that it was held in conjunction with the Barracks Row Fall Festival near the Marine Barracks.
This year the team consisted of the team captain, Sgt. Jeffrey W. Vaughan, 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), and team members: Staff Sgt. Orkie L. Bradley, 451st Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), Spc. Nathanael J. Dewey, 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and Staff Sgt. Markos A. Mendoza, 311th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). The team received mentorship and technical advisement throughout the competition from their coach, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Colby S. Beard, 807th Medical Command and assistance from their runner, Spc. Jason L. Brye, 4th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary).
The competition does more than draw some of the Army Reserve’s most talented culinary professionals. It teaches them how to work well as a cohesive team and hones invaluable skills that Soldiers can apply back in their units, civilian careers and personal lives.
Dewey, a culinary specialist who serves as an enlisted aide, competed in this competition for the first time this year but is not new to the food service field or the culinary competition world. During the last six years, he has competed in the 40th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event held at Fort Lee, Va. where he earned a silver medal for his food sculpture centerpiece. He also represented his unit at the Philip A. Connelly Competition held in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this year.
“[As a member of the team,] I learned about the competition and what all it entails. If I do it next year, I’ll know what to expect,” said Dewey. “I didn’t know exactly what to expect coming to this competition. Now I know that I need to work on learning more skills, like learning how to cook exotic fruits, which were in the mystery basket.”
The competition also marked a first for Mendoza, an advanced culinary NCO. He has ten years of culinary experience as a civilian and has been pursuing his craft with the Army Reserve for the last 5 and a half years. Mendoza earned a bronze medal in his table set up at the 40th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event.
“I wanted to elevate my skills as an Army Reserve cook, so I took on this challenge,” said Mendoza. “One of our biggest goals was to learn how to work as a team, how to communicate with each other and how to take culinary skills back to our Soldiers to increase morale and effectively succeed in our unit missions.”
One of the unique challenges for this team is that they don’t get to train as a team on a regular basis. While other teams work together and often train for these competitions for months, the Army Reserve team trained together for only five days prior to the event under the direction of Beard and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Danny Wolf, the senior culinary program manager for the Army Reserve. Beard and Wolf ensured that the team practiced completing all of the competition requirements, while sharing lessons that they have learned from their own military and civilian culinary careers.
“One of my goals is to increase the skill level of all culinary specialists in the Army Reserves. We can do that by sharing our passion, drive and striving for additional training opportunities, such as this competition,” said Beard.
The team had 30 minutes to view the mystery basket and write a menu for a four-course meal plus an additional 15 minutes to set up their kitchen. They had two hours to organize and arrange all of the menu ingredients then cook and serve the meal for four people. The team was provided with a common pantry and a mystery basket that was not revealed until immediately prior to their menu development. All mystery basket items had to be incorporated into the meal.
“The group mindset changed when we saw what was in the basket. We had to change our whole menu [from our preparation menu], except for the dessert,” said Dewey.
In addition to the surprise of the mystery items and time constraints, the team had to prepare the entire meal without electricity, a freezer or ice while operating in a small space under an awning on 8th Street and I Street of the Barracks Row neighborhood.
This competition is sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, Inc. The Military Culinary Competition is considered a “W,” also known as a customized wildcard event. Teams are evaluated on organization, cooking skills and culinary techniques, and taste.
Participation in this competition earns team members continuing education hours which can be applied to the 16 continuing education hours required for annual recertification with the American Culinary Federation, Inc. Teams that earn bronze, silver or gold medals are entitled to six, 12 or 18 continuing education hours respectively.
The Army Reserve Culinary Arts Team was among the few that earned a silver medal, earning each team member 12 continuing education hours for the year and an official certificate from the American Culinary Federation, Inc.
Beyond earning additional credentials that will assist team members in their military careers, the Soldiers expressed that their love of food, passion for the culinary arts, and the experience of creating and enjoying good food that will create lasting memories is what really drives them to compete.
“Food plays a dynamic role in the creation of memories. I want to be a part of that. I want to impact morale and have food be a part of the Army experience that Soldiers remember and talk about,” said Mendoza.
The Army Reserve Culinary Arts Team is already planning training for next year’s competition. Members encourage fellow Army Reserve culinary specialists with the 92G or 68M military occupational specialties and a passion for learning through competition to get involved.