Winning is not everything

By Maj. William Geddes | 103rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) | Jan. 21, 2016

November 14, 2015 —

SLOAN, Nev. – Vince Lombardi, legendary Green Bay Packer coach, notwithstanding, for the Army Reserve Culinary Arts Team winning is NOT everything or the only thing – it’s not even the most important thing. The most important thing for this team is improving the overall quality of Army food service and Soldier training. Making sure they are set up to accomplish this drives how Chief Warrant Officer 2 Danny Wolf has developed training for not only the team, but for cooks in Army Reserve units across the country.
 
Wolf implemented that training during a battle assembly Nov. 13-15 in Sloan, Nevada, with cooks from the 645th Transportation Company, 257th Transportation Company, 314th Transportation Battalion and the 650th Regional Support Group units taking part.

“I focused on back-to-basics training, meaning everything, starting with the basic knife skills, and then continued on taking them through the entire cooking process,” said Wolf. “I wanted them to get a process down so they can plan better and be more efficient.”

The training started early Friday with mise en place, which is a French phrase for putting in place, as in set up. This means organizing and arranging the ingredients, so when you show up to cook, everything is prepared and ready to go. The preparation continued into the evening, with training on how to more effectively do everything from chopping onions to storing food occurring throughout the process. That focus had one key purpose.

“It’s more efficient and cost effective,” said Wolf.
 
Improving the Army Reserve cooking process is key to making it cost effective. By improving how the Army Reserve cooks set up and prepare the meals, the team can help the Army Reserve improve already impressive cost savings achieved by units having their cooks prepare the meals during battle assembly weekends.

“On average nationally, a meal prepared by an Army Reserve cook will cost around $5.50 a meal,” said Wolf. “A catered meal, or a meal at a commercial restaurant will cost around $10 a meal.”
 
The training has other benefits too.

“It gives our cooks more pride in their (military occupational skill),” said Staff Sgt. Markos Mendoza, 257th Transportation Company. “What we try to do is overcome the stereotype of Army food and Army cooks, creating thoughtful cuisine creating memories for our Soldiers, making sure they get at least two hot meals every drill weekend.”
 
Doing things more efficiently can be even more important in an Army Reserve setting.

“A lot of times when (Army Reserve Soldiers) come back from (advanced individual training), they forget some of the training by the time they are back in a kitchen,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Parker, 451st Quartermaster Company, and the current captain of the Army Reserve Culinary Arts Team as well as a founding member of the team. “We reinforce the basics and then add a little of the non-basics.”

Parker said the team is able to bring different cooking styles to the Reserve units, everything from different cutting techniques, to ways to maintain speed and service, to a realization as to the importance of being more efficient in their tasks.

“The more you cook the more you learn – and the more you teach the more you learn too,” said Parker. “If I’m teaching one of the cooks how to make tournée cut potatoes (tournée refers to a vegetable cut to measure 2 inches long with seven sides and tapered on the ends), or to make a Hollandaise sauce, I may forget something; when you’re teaching it, you remember it because of how you go through it.”

The teaching has been done in the past, but not to the extent that Wolf plans on having the current team do it. He sees training units, getting them support and helping them achieve the level of success the Army Reserve wants them to be as one of the main missions of the team.

“We have to build a good farm team, so we can continue to improve our culinary arts team and Army Reserve cooking,” Wolf said.
 
The Army Reserve Soldiers taking part in the training were receptive.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity. I’m thrilled to get my hands on and be a part of this,” said Sgt. Aeriano Wierbinski, 645th Transportation Company. “I’m learning new things I haven’t learned before, and it’s a great refresher for skills I learned in AIT. There is a certain way I learned to cut onions on a cutting board, but (Parker) showed me how to cut the onions in the air – it’s a lot faster that way.”
 
Building a strong bench will help the Army Reserve Culinary Arts Team compete in the future, as will the training they were able to get here as a team preparing for the 41st Annual Military Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee Feb. 26 – March 11. Wolf expects the team to do well this year, largely because of training events like this one and other opportunities he has created to allow the team to work together.

“We’re at a disadvantage (to the active duty teams) because we aren’t able to work together often,” he said. “Working together here and working with Army Reserve Soldiers at a unit level – it’s a win all the way around.”