Story and photos by Dustin Senger
Warm lobster with lemon vinaigrette, rack of lamb with apple lentils, wild mushroom soup with a rosemary parmesan cracker – these are a few gourmet recipes created by Fort Carson Soldiers.
The Mountain Post’s top chefs exhibited their culinary talents inside the Warhorse Dining Facility Feb. 10, ahead of entering a national-level competition. The Fort Carson culinary arts team displayed its cold food table entry, inspired by the classic adventure novel “Around the World in 80 Days.”
Twelve Fort Carson Soldiers will travel to Fort Lee, Va., for the 36th U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition Feb. 26-March 11. They are competitors in several categories, including best entrees, exhibits and ice centerpieces, as well as Armed Forces Chef of the Year and Installation of the Year.
“This is our big show,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Mullins, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, referring to the competition at Fort Lee. Mullins is the Fort Carson culinary arts team captain. “This is the time for our food service personnel to shine.”
Dressed in white chef coats, the Soldiers explained an assortment of two-bite appetizers and platters of seafood, game meats and desserts. Food replicas of the Big Ben and Great Wall monuments amazed viewers, who commented about the elaborate details sculpted out of tallow and icing.
“I’m impressed with how they tied the theme together: ‘Around the World in 80 Days,'” said Capt. Matthew Nichols, 4th BCT, after circling the table. “This is food you’d expect to see in a fine restaurant. I had no idea chefs in the military can make things so intricate.”
Mullins and Sgt. Travis Burton, 2nd Bn., 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th BCT, are the only two team members with culinary degrees. The others learned their cooking skills in the Army, which included a two-month basic food service course at Fort Lee.
Twenty food service specialists tried out for the Fort Carson culinary arts team, said Warrant Office 2 Benilda Harris, Fort Carson culinary arts team manager. After selecting the top chefs, the group trained for more than two months, which included 24-hour days to get ready for the competition’s long hours.
“I think ‘Army dining facility’ and I normally don’t think about showmanship,” said Capt. Michael Baddley, 4th BCT, standing over the cold table display. “I knew they could cook for massive quantities of people but I didn’t know they could cook with such … this looks like art.”
“Military chefs often get a bad rap … opening cans of beans and stuff,” said Thomas Schaefer, American Culinary Federation Pikes Peak director of operations and Pikes Peak Community College chef instructor. “When you come here and see this – it could stand against any chef on the civilian side.”
Schaefer volunteered to assist in training the Fort Carson culinary arts team, after meeting Mullins at a charity event in November. The Mountain Post had helped prepare 5,000 meals at the Salvation Army for Thanksgiving Day, said Mullins.
“Fort Carson is really great at donating time to our community, so I wanted to give back,” said Schaefer.
He said the team is “more than ready” and he’s impressed by their research and performance.
The U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition follows American Culinary Federation rules and procedures, as well as mirrors the structure of the World Culinary Olympics, according to the Army Quartermaster School at Fort Lee. The military’s annual event is the largest culinary competition in the United States.
Judges will evaluate food handling, cooking techniques and ingredient application in practical and contemporary cooking. During a service and tasting assessment, the panel reviews serving methods, portion sizes, nutritional balance, ingredient compatibility – even creativity and practicality.
Spc. Amber Davis, 2nd Bn., 12th Inf. Reg., 4th BCT, is a contender for the Armed Forces Junior Chef of the Year category. The entry-level competition, open to anyone 24 years old and younger, emphasizes the execution of basic skills.
Davis, 20, cooked and plated a tender garlic herb lamb loin with sautéed vegetables and gourmet fried potatoes.
A Soldier smiled and asked where she learned to cook so well.
“I have great NCOs,” said Davis.
U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competitions have been held each year since 1973, with the exception of 1991 and 2003, due to Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. Servicemembers and Department of Defense civilians from each military branch will compete at Fort Lee.
Participants may try out for the national military culinary team, to participate in the 2012 Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany. The U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team’s cold food table earned a gold medal at the 2010 Culinary World Cup in Luxemburg, Germany.