March 7, 2016 –
FORT LEE, Va. – Family and Caribbean heritage means everything to Staff Sgt. Aqueelah James. A member of the U.S. Army Reserve Culinary Arts Team and assigned to the 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support) at Fort Gillem, Georgia, the flavors of the tropics frequently find their way into her cooking.
Those influences led her to a silver medal in the Practical and Contemporary Hot Food Cooking/Patisserie, Composed Cold Dessert category at the 41st Annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event, March 7, 2016.
Her Island Dream Dessert featured a Mango Rum ice cream coupled with a Walnut spice cake, Goat Cheese Bavarian and Hibiscus Coulis.
“Yes [hibiscus flowers] that’s what made the sorelle,” James said. “The leaves make up the dye. It’s something that we use in the Caribbean to make a drink.”
She had never made this dessert before but she wanted to honor her family’s heritage. Her mother is from Saint Kitts and Nevis and her father is from the Dominican Republic.
“I wanted to make a dish that is combined with the flavor of my culture. I just wanted to give a Caribbean flavor with a French twist,” James said.
James, who is a first-generation American, said her father worked for the railroad in England before becoming a chef in the U.S. Her mother, grandmother, and aunts are all chefs who specialize in baking.
“Most of the baking skills come from them,” James said. “I’m just carrying on the family tradition.”
James, who has been with the U.S. Army Reserve Culinary Arts Team since 2011, is not new to competition. She previously won a gold as a student chef, but today’s silver medal was her first as a professional chef.
“I have been a professional for three years, previously winning a bronze medal,” she said.
James said that working hard, and having passion for the culinary craft is the key to success.
“If you learn to love the art and learn to understand it’s not just cooking but it is also about personal and professional growth, you will do very well in our field,” James said.