38th Annual Army Culinary Arts Competition
By Caitlin Davis, Senior Staff Writer
Mar 8, 2013, 13:51
photo by James Peacemaker, Jr. A chef in the Army Culinary Arts Competition prepares food for the judges at Fort Lee on Thursday.
Military chefs from all over the country, and some from Canada, France and Germany, have come to Fort Lee to battle in the kitchen using spatulas, spoons and spices as their weapons of choice.
The 38th annual Army Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event began on March 6 at the field house on Fort Lee.
Charles Talley Jr., show chairman and Chief Warrant Officer, said there have been a few changes to the event this year.
This year, a new competition, the Master’s, was added. This event features the top chefs in the military, all who have won, at minimum, a silver medal for their cooking skills.
Talley said this year also featured the use of a mobile kitchen trailer. He said this trailer is used in the field cooking competition. This kitchen can feed about 350 personnel. It was being used on Thursday to cook a three-course meal for those in attendance.
Talley said that was what the event was all about, allowing military personnel a chance to sharpen their skills and a chance for the public to come out and partake in fine dining.
“It is awesome and I think what makes this event special is that teams come throughout the world but more importantly throughout our joint military,” Talley said. “We have representation from all five branches of the military and the teams that come in here have a unique opportunity to not only sharpen their individual skills but they’re able to train on items that they don’t normally get in their regular, whether it be a ship or a dining facility, they’re able to broaden their horizons and train and share with other teams.”
The International cooking competition kicked off the event on March 6. Results from the competition were announced at Thursday’s event, with Team USA taking the gold, winning by .02 points.
Chief Petty Officer Derrick Davenport Sr. of Fort Myer and Sgt. Sarah Deckert of Fort McNair, from Team USA, worked together during the competition, serving up caramelized onion and parsnip soup and roasted lamb with risotto, and with a combined experience in the kitchen of more than 30 years, said they knew they were up against stiff competition.
photo by James Peacemaker, Jr. Food is put on plates for the culinary competition.
“We knew that our toughest competition was the team from Germany,” Deckert said. “... It’s an honor to beat them. We’ve lost to them already in Germany. It’s nice to beat them on home turf.”
For the international competition, teams are given a “mystery box.” In that box was four proteins, such as chicken or lamb, three speciality vegetables, a grain, and one or two dairy products. The teams had 30 minutes to write a four-course menu and then three hours to cook the meal.
“You can’t really prepare,” Deckert said. “You just show up and hope for the best.”
Stafford DeCambra, the corporate executive chef for Poarch Band of Creek Indians’ Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore, Ala., and lead judge for the competition, gave some insight into what goes into judging all the dishes from the chefs. He said some of the most basic rules apply.
photo by James Peacemaker, Jr. Lead Judge Stafford DeCambra tastes food at the competition.
“We have some simple rules, hot food hot, cold food cold,” DeCambra said. “That’s the number one rule.”
DeCambra, who has been judging at Fort Lee for seven years, said the tasting judges also look at the appearance of the dish, the appeal of what is being served, creativity behind the dish, and if nutritional guidelines are being followed, such as the meal including a protein, a starch and a vegetable.
And of course the most important, the taste of the meal.
“You got to bring it all together,” DeCambra said. “Textures, flavor profiles, such as spices complimenting instead of overpowering.”
He also said the judging starts before the meal is served. DeCambra said the floor judges watch for cooking techniques, if the chefs are using healthy cooking techniques, and if basic sanitation is being followed in the kitchen.
While three- and four-course meals were being served up on Thursday during the competition, Matthew Sharpe, 92 G Instructor Field Branch at Fort Lee, was there to showcase the other side of food in the military.
Sharpe said soldiers can have ready-to-eat meals, which are pre-packed and freeze dried, or a meal cooked by chefs in the military. He said food makes a big difference in the life of a soldier.
photo by James Peacemaker, Jr. Food is put on plates for servers to take to the tables.
“We’re serving name brand items so when the soldiers are out in the field ... it stops you from being homesick,” Sharpe said, who has faced six deployments. “... We’re giving them the quality meals as you can get at your home.”
On the table was a display of M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces, and Uncle Ben’s Rice. He said just being able to see the name brands on the packages changes the way a soldier tastes his food.
“The saying is, ‘you eat with your eyes,’” Sharpe explained. “I know it sounds weird but if the food doesn’t look edible you don’t want to eat it. ... It’s everything you can get at the grocery store to make you feel comfortable at home.”
Kevin Smith, a software class instructor at Fort Lee, along with his wife, Carmen, and their 3-year-old daughter, was out on Thursday, sitting and enjoying what was being served up at the field competition event. Smith, who is also a cook and has been for 12 years, said the event was a good display of what soldiers are capable of given the right kitchen utensils.
“People say that cooks don’t do anything in the military, so we’re here to show them that we do, do something,” Smith said.
His wife, Carmen, who was eating dijon crusted rack of lamb, with mint jelly, cheesy fried grits and candied beets, said the food was good and that she was looking forward to dessert.
“It was good. The mix of flavors are good,” she said.
The event runs until March 13 and is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The public will also have a chance to taste some of the dishes. Tickets can be purchased for $4.60 starting at 11 a.m. each day with the tickets being on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“Not only the Fort Lee community but all of the surrounding communities including the Tri-Cities have the opportunity to come in and see live cooking, live baking,” Talley said.