FORT LEE, Va. – Five Fort Carson Soldiers were among the 184 U.S. military chefs who competed in the 34th U.S. Army Culinary Arts competition held at Fort Lee, Va., March 2-Friday.
Members from every branch of the Armed Forces brought with them an arsenal of cutlery and recipes. During this American Culinary Federation-sanctioned competition, military
culinarians competed in more than 40 categories to earn individual and team bronze, silver or gold medals. The categories included field cooking, nutritional hot food challenge, ice carving,
culinary knowledge bowl, practical cooking and pastry, team buffet and showpieces.
At its most basic level, the competition is about increasing the skills of military food service personnel. They will better learn how food – properly prepared and presented – can impact the morale and readiness of troops who may be serving their country at a garrison stateside or a field location tucked somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan.
There are numerous categories in the competition for which contestants can showcase and advance their skills; however, no category represents the challenge of feeding troops in field settings better than the three-day field competition held March
5-7 at the Army Center of Excellence, Subsistence.
In that event, a team of four food service military members is charged with preparing a five-star, three-course meal for a large number of diners in four hours, and they do it in a stuffy, 200-square-foot trailer, called a containerized kitchen, commonly used in field environments.
March 1, the day prior to the competition, was the day that a large snowstorm hit the East Coast and Fort Lee was closed the next day. Spc. Thomas Sperry, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said that the Fort Carson field competition team was the only team to show up to set up their equipment to use later in the week.
“They made us leave,” he said. “They told us we couldn’t stay in the competition area that day.”
Team Carson for that event was made up of Sperry, Sgt. Stephen Bundy, 549th Quartermaster Company, 43rd Sustainment Brigade, Sgt. Anthony Santi, 59th QM Company, 43rd SB, and Pfc. Monica Brooks, 1st Bn., 12th Inf. Reg. The team earned a bronze medal. Spc. Jacquevanda Arnold, 1st Bn., 12th Inf. Reg, also represented Fort Carson in other events.
This year, the field competition added a twist. Instead of showing off 10 or so plate samples in a banquet-style setting, the 12 teams were required to plate and serve a large number of people in a restaurant-style setting.
“What we wanted to do this year is provide the public an opportunity to come out and see what our military chefs can do,” said Chief Warrant Officer4 Robert Sparks, chief, culinary skills division, ACES, Quartermaster Center and School. “So we transformed our parking lot into a five-star restaurant. We set out a 40 by 120-foot tent, four tactical kitchens and each team had to prepare 60 portions in the tactical kitchens but restaurant-style.”
“Being that this is a public event in that they could sit in the dining room and watch them cook put additional pressure on the chefs,” he said. “They also knew that the public would be very critical of their dishes, so they put their best foot forward.”
Brooks said that she was mostly in the kitchen and didn’t know about the audience until it was time to serve the meal.
“When I came out, I thought ‘Whoa! There’s a lot of people watching us plate.’ It was scary,” she said. “I thought, ‘Would they like the food? Are they going to hate it?’ A lot of people said ‘Oh my god, that was delicious.'”
In addition to winning a bronze medal for the field competition, the five members of the Fort Carson team received awards in the individual competitions. Bundy received bronze medals for both six-plated appetizers (cold table) and lobster dish (live contemporary cooking). Santi received bronze in the senior chef competition. Sperry received bronze for lamb dish (live contemporary cooking) and centerpiece (cold table) and commendable for seafood platter (cold table). Brooks received commendable for her petit four platter (cold table) and hors d’oeuvre (cold table). Arnold received a bronze medal for her six-plated desserts and cold plated dessert (live contemporary cooking).
“I was really challenging as I had only an hour to put my plate out. I look forward to doing it next year. It was fun. I got to learn a lot and I’m looking forward to learning a lot more,” said Arnold.
In 2008, Team Carson was awarded Installation of the Year, however, the team couldn’t enter this year because so many of the cooks are deployed. Sperry said that in order to have a strong installation team, at least 10 people are needed.
Editor’s note: Information for this article was provided by T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Traveller; the Fort Lee Public Affairs Office; and Doug Rule, Fort Carson Public Affairs Office.