Story and photo by Spc. Nathan Thome
4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
Twenty-five food service specialists from units across Fort Carson began training Monday at the Fort Carson Culinary Academy in preparation to test their skills against other cooks at the 38th Annual U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Va.
The March competition will include four categories: a team table display, Armed Forces Junior/Senior Chef of the Year, field competition and student knowledge bowl.
“The culinary arts competition is the crux of Army food service, the pinnacle of the food service world,” said Sgt. 1st Class William Esterline, brigade food adviser, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. “This competition is a chance to expose the Soldiers’ potential.
“You get the new cooks, who just came out of training, and when you put them in the kitchen, you don’t get to see what they’re all about,” said Esterline. “These culinary arts competitions just bring out the best in people; that untapped potential that you have never seen before. Some of the things these guys bring to the table (are) unbelievable.”
To make the team, interested Soldiers took a placement test; those who did well joined, while those who didn’t were enrolled in the next food enhancement course.
“We plan to do extreme training; we’re going to focus and hit on the topics and the competition classes we’re actually going to be competing in,” said Esterline. “We’ll be practicing six to seven days a week, from morning to nightfall.”
In addition to training, chef Thomas Schaefer, American Culinary Federation, Pikes Peak Chapter, assisted the team by teaching and reviewing classes and cooking techniques.
Esterline said he believes the knowledge bowl will be the hardest event, because it covers advanced culinary knowledge, and the judges are unforgiving when it comes to answering. The Soldiers have to be precise and know what they’re doing, so they need to practice everything they know, and that knowledge comes from four to six books, said Esterline.
Some Soldiers have taken it upon themselves to enhance their skills and knowledge during their personal time and through post events.
“I cook at home and try to do what I can on my own, and I try to take all the courses Fort Carson has to offer,” said Pfc. Melvin Shepherd, food service specialist, Battery G, 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 4th BCT. “I’ve done the food refresher course, participated in about four cook-offs and cooked for the wounded warrior events and memorial services for our fallen comrades.”
Growing up in a military Family and traveling a lot at an early age, Shepherd said the biggest thing he took from the experience was the food. He said it instilled in him the drive to travel, taste and cook new food, and to have his children do the same because life is a learning experience.
“That’s the main reason I chose this profession, I wanted to do something I love; something creative, where I can do something different every day,” said Shepherd.
Every participating team has prepared a menu in advance, which the team will cook for the judges during the Army culinary competition.
“I look forward to using my creative skills, that’s one of the biggest parts of cooking,” said Shepherd. “Cooking comes from the heart; it’s all about your emotions and how you feel, so you have to be artistic and open-minded.”
Shepherd said he has been enhancing his skills at the dining facility while cooking food for the Soldiers. He said he prepared quiches, crab and five different types of fish.
He said the thing he looks forward to most is bringing home the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition trophy.
“I’m working hard to get myself to the point where I’m proficient enough to where, no matter what comes up, I can perform and will be at the top of my game,” said Shepherd. “It’s not just for me; it’s for my team, my post. It brings great honor and joy to my heart to accomplish certain things and knowing that it makes our post look good as a whole.
“As the Army saying goes, ‘One team, one fight,’” Shepherd said. “One person isn’t going to win this, it’s a team effort.”
The date of the competition is still undetermined. Scores and links to live streaming will be posted on the Fort Carson Culinary Arts Team Facebook page.