‘Chef of Year’ Competition Opens Culinary Training Event

FORT LEE, Va., March 9, 2017 — The 42nd annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event kicked off here March 3 with its most prestigious and challenging category: Armed Forces Chef of the Year.

In the only competition held entirely at the Joint Culinary Training Center, chefs work feverishly to get out a top-notch four-course, four-serving meal to the waiting judges.

“Part of why the event is so prestigious is because of the title,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 J.D. Ward, chief of the advanced culinary training division at the JCTC. “The individual who wins holds the title for 12 months as the chef of the year. In addition, it’s easily the most challenging event.”

Ward is in his second year as the show chair for the event, but he is well versed in the training and competitive nature of top military chef category, having competed himself earlier in his career.

“It’s a very challenging event,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure on the chefs to create the meal in that short amount of time. Additionally, this event sets the pace for the Team of the Year event. Once they see the medal they get here, it starts to encourage those teams who are in the running for Culinary Team of the Year.”

Mystery Basket

Part of the challenge is the unknown. Competitors receive a mystery basket — based on American Culinary Federation rules — and get time to prepare the menu before their four-hour cooking time starts. This year’s basket included rainbow trout, veal hotel rack, oxtail, smoked turkey neck, canned anchovies, dark chocolate, ancho chili, Reblochon cheese, sunflower seeds, gooseberry, watermelon, kasha, lobster mushrooms, ramps, golden beets and rhubarb.

Army Staff Sgt. Gabriel Earle, part of the team from Fort Stewart, Georgia, is in his fourth year of competing at this event and said he trained hard for Armed Forces Chef of the Year.

“Every year gets a little bit better, and while it doesn’t get easier, your brain clicks a bit more when you see things,” he said. “You learn what to expect and pick up something new every year to bring into the next competition.”

After preparing the dishes and sending them off to the judges, the competitors receive critiques of their work from American Culinary Federation chefs, many of whom judge this competition every year. Earle said he was pleased with his overall critique and that he can’t wait to learn who earned the top title.

“Even though it was the worst of [the] critique of my dishes, the one I’m most proud of is my dessert,” he said. “The only thing in the judges’ critique was about my plating.

“In the past, the pastry critique has been horrible,” he continued. “The judges would tell me that half of what I did I should have never done to a dessert. I practiced a lot this year, and I’m getting a lot better at desserts. I was proud to get the critique.”

Passing on Lessons Learned

Earle — who is a shift leader at a dining facility at his home station — said he uses his preparation and the skills he learns during the competition to show soldiers the opportunities in the culinary arts field. That’s the main reason he continues to attend the training event, he added.

“I like to teach soldiers and show them more of what they can do besides being in a dining facility,” he said. “I like to do more than be in a dining facility. I like seeing all the familiar faces — all the others I’ve competed with over the years.”

This year, four chefs earned a silver medal in the event, marking the second straight year that no chefs earned gold. Earle said he’s proud of his score and that he thinks it represents what was truly earned.

“I think in the past, the ACF may not have judged the military chefs as harshly, because they felt like they couldn’t keep up with ACF standards since we don’t work in a restaurant or out in the industry,” he said. “In the past few years, they’ve started grading us against our peers. Even in civilian ACF competitions, there are not a lot of gold medals awarded during a mystery basket challenge.”

Source: US Department of Defense

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