Story and photos by Staff Sgt. Wayne Barnett
As the flames on the stove were extinguished and the whirring of mixers dissipated, two people emerged victorious in the 4th Infantry Division chef of the year contest.
After two days of heated competition, Cpl. Stephanie Francois, 168th Brigade Support Battalion, 214th Fires Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Sill, Okla., and Spc. Rossana Vera, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div., rose above their peers to claim the title of senior and junior chef of the year, respectively.
“This was a great learning experience and really fun. I am glad I could come out and represent Fort Sill well,” said Francois.
“I am really happy that I won. I have only worked in the dining facility a short time and have already won one of the big competitions,” said Vera.
The two-day contest pitted Francois against Sgt. Dirk Anderson 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div.; Sgt. Callie Worsley, 704th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th BCT, 4th Inf. Div.; in the senior chef competition. Vera bested Spc. Kenneth Lacosse, 4th BCT; and Pfc. Erickson Guffey, 2nd Battalion, 5th Artillery Regiment, 214th Fires Bde.; for the coveted title of junior chef of the year.
These Soldiers won at their individual brigade chef of the quarter boards to advance to the yearly “Ivy” Division competition.
Day one of the competition involved a formal board where the Soldiers answered questions on military topics such as physical fitness, leadership and military customs and history. The competitors also answered questions about their military occupational specialty that included topics on sanitation, food service administration and preparation and field food service.
“I was really nervous going into the board portion of the event,” said Anderson.
Day two of the event allowed the Soldiers to show off their culinary talent in a mystery basket cook-off.
“It’s an incentive for them to progress in their MOS whether it is culinary or advanced culinary, this is the perfect setting for them to get the motivation they need to do that,” said Sgt. 1st Class Colin Brooks, 168th BSB, 214th Fires Bde.
The chefs drew numbers corresponding to mystery baskets that contained the same vegetables and starches, but had either beef, chicken, shrimp or fish. Then they were given 30 minutes to create a menu and assemble their equipment and ingredients.
“The time went by a lot faster than I imagined. I looked up and a half hour had gone by, and I couldn’t figure out how that happened,” said Anderson.
The next two hours were used to prepare a three-course meal under the watchful eyes of the judges.
“We are judging on work ethics, sanitation, and basic food preparation and knife skills … the overall culinary picture,” said Sgt. 1st Class Willie Conner, judge with 214th Fires Bde.
The last half hour was used by the chefs to plate and present their creations to the panel of five judges who evaluated plate presentation, taste, portion control and nutritional value.
After the judging, the scores were tallied and added to the day one scores to determine the overall best chefs.
“I think we had a great turnout. The Soldiers were very motivated. They gave it their all and they learned something and brought something for everyone else to learn from,” said Gregory Joell, installation food project manager.