Military chefs dish up chow that wows at fall festival
September 28, 2012
WASHINGTON – Dish after dish of assorted meats, veggies, soups, salads and starches filled the judges’ table at the 2012 Military Culinary Competition held here on Sept. 22.
To the untrained eye, the various culinary creations looked scrumptious. The centerpiece of one platter featured a row of shrimp scampi crowning a sirloin strip bordered with a sizeable helping of sautéed green beans on one side and a healthy portion of scalloped potatoes on the other side.
Yet for all its appeal, the meal had some imperfections that discerning palates and sensibilities quickly pointed out.
“Tastes like a potato,” one of the judges, Chef Mike DiStefano, blandly stated between swallows of the side entrée. “Could have been seasoned a little more.”
Fellow judge Keith Watson, a food-service staff sergeant in the Delaware National Guard, quickly surveyed the meal and declared, “I think the plate’s a little crowded… How’s the shrimp?” he asked while scooping a sample into his mouth.
DiStefano shrugged in reply and said only, “very bland.”
Chewing down a mouth-full of green beans, DiStefano added, “Veggies are a little overcooked… The beef,” he noted while stabbing at the steak with his fork prongs, “was definitely overcooked.”
The two judges didn’t even bother to sample the overcooked meat. That blunder would have earned the team that prepared the meal very low points in the “cooking methods” category had not a bean soup, which both judges highly praised, upped their score.
And so it went for 21 meals: 16 presented in the preliminary rounds of the recent competition and five presented in the final round.
In preparing their meals outside under tent canopies on the first day of fall, the competing military chefs were able to show off their culinary talents before thousands of people attending the annual Barracks Row Fall Festival. After each two-hour round, prepared dishes were placed on display tables so festival goers could see the quality of food military chefs are capable of preparing.
The festival, itself a smorgasbord of tasty treats, ran several city blocks long just outside D.C.’s historic Marine Barracks. From one end of the festival to the other, food vendors brought much cheer to the crowds by offering free samples of their wares: Brownies, cookies, pies, cupcakes seemed to be much in favor. Festival attractions included a petting zoo, stage performances by various vocal and instrumental musical groups, aerial trapeze demonstrations and tours of the Marine Corps Commandant’s residence as well as the Barracks.
But the main course of the day was the chefs' cook-off. As the crowds meandered leisurely through the festival, the military chefs were at their makeshift kitchens hustling to churn out chow that could wow the most refined of gastronomical tastes.
“Military chefs are known for producing mass quantities of food,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Jesus Camacho, a Marine chef who served as one of the proctors at the competition. Most, if not all, of the chefs at the competition, Camacho noted, “work at the senior executive level … cooking higher cuisine” for three- and four-star flag officers as well as for dining facilities that serve the secretary of defense and the secretaries of the various military branches.
Though the judges were blunt in their grading of the meals, they also appreciated the high-grade level of cuisine that the chefs prepared.
“We have some world-class chefs in the military,” noted Watson, who in his full-time civilian job is the manager of Smoky Bones restaurant in Bowie, Md. “I think there is this perception on the civilian side that everything is SOS… you know, ‘Stuff on a Shingle.’ And it really isn’t. These kind of events …. It’s a great way for the public to be showcased… They’re walking by and you’re seeing some ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs.’ They’re like, ‘a Marine just made that? A soldier just made that?’
“Yeah,” Watson affirmed with a glowing smile.
1st Place – U.S. Army PentagonStaff Sgt. Brandon Parworth, ArmySgt. Michael Williams, ArmySpc. Javier Muniz, ArmySpc. William Pelkey, ArmyPrizes:- $4,000 split among team members- Hubert Custom Knife Kit with Garnish Kit- Coin from Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos
2nd Place – Joint Team OSD Pentagon Staff Sgt. Andre Ward, ArmyStaff Sgt. Ghil Medina, Air ForceSgt. Edward Windhurst, ArmySpc. Kevin Arwood, ArmyPrize: - $2,000 split among team members
3rd Place - Joint Team United ForcesMaster Sgt. Teresa Vanderford, Air ForceGunnery Sgt. Quentin Reed, Marine CorpsSgt. 1st Class Aletha Holiday, ArmyTech. Sgt. Jessica Styles, Air ForcePrize: $1,000.00 split among team members
REST OF THE TEAMS:
Army Reserve Team 1Staff Sgt. Orkie Bradley, ArmySgt. Jennifer Lee, ArmySpc. Aqueelah James, ArmySpc. Jeffrey Vaughan, Army
Army Reserve Team 2Master Sgt. David Cooper, ArmySpc. Zachary McDavid, ArmySpc. Michael Nardo, ArmySpc. Nicolas Velasquez, Army
Confusion FusionsMaster Sgt. Andrew Atkinson, Marine CorpsGunnery Sgt. Ji Kim, Marine CorpsSgt. 1st Class Jose Jimenez, Marine CorpsStaff Sgt. Karla Arce, Marine Corps
Executive Dining Facility Pentagon Team 2 (Top 5 finalist)Staff Sgt. Lucas Tate, Air ForceStaff Sgt. Orlando Serna, ArmyPetty Officer 2nd Class David Maisonneuve, NavySpc. Gregory Smith, Army
Executive Dining Facility RocksTech. Sgt. Jeffrey Kaplan, Air ForceTech. Sgt. Maria Taylor, Air ForceStaff Sgt. Mario Hamilton, Air ForceStaff Sgt. Rachel Burdick, Air Force
Infusionz - Dover Air Force Base Dining FacilityStaff Sgt. Rommel Ongacio, Air ForceStaff Sgt. Nicholas Ruffo, Air ForceSenior Airman Raquell Williams, Air ForceSenior Airman Julian Thomas, Air Force
Team Joshua R. Ashley USMCGunnery Sgt. Jeffery Hollenbeck, Marine CorpsGunnery Sgt. Leland White, Marine CorpsStaff Sgt. Bryan Baker, Marine CorpsSgt. Paul Dragicevich, Marine Corps
The Mid-Lant MashersPetty Officer 1st Class Jason Lower, NavyPetty Officer 1st Class Christopher Davis, NavyPetty Officer 2nd Class Oliver Onwubunta, NavyPetty Officer 2nd Class Jamichael Webb, Navy
Mystery MixPetty Officer 1st Class Tomeeko Young, NavyPetty Officer 1st Class Michael Morel, NavyPetty Officer 1st Class Michael Luzunaris, NavyPetty Officer 2nd Class Jeremy Kapper, Coat Guard
NCHB-3 Air CompanyLt. Leslie Jett, NavyPetty Officer 3rd Class Jeffrey Ekman, NavyPetty Officer 3rd Class Manuel Martinez, NavySeaman Brianna Davis, Navy
SECNAV Mess Team Blue (Top 5 finalist)Petty Officer 1st Class James Furguson, NavyPetty Officer 2nd Class Dion Yipon, NavyPetty Officer 2nd Class Michael Derry, NavyPetty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Mariano, Navy
SECNAV Mess Team GoldPetty Officer 1st Class Eduardo Davila, NavyPetty Officer 1st Class David Yaung, NavyPetty Officer 1st Class Michael Kuhns, NavyStaff Sgt. Crystal Coleman, Air Force
West Coast MarinesGunnery Sgt. Matthew Jacobs, Marine CorpsGunnery Sgt. Scott Zabel, Marine CorpsGunnery Sgt. Ben Coleman Marine CorpsSgt. Arturo Torres, Marine Corps