Chefs’ extra touches turning Qalat base into region’s hot dining spot
August 2, 2005
QALAT, Afghanistan — A large, wooden building with a cement floor may never qualify as a fine restaurant, but that doesn’t mean that the food can’t be really good.
Soldiers running the Forward Operating Base Lagman dining facility have taken standard Army chow, added a few personal touches, and made it, according to some, the best place to eat in southern Afghanistan.
“We take pride in our job,” said the facility’s manager, Staff Sgt. Peter Henry of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment. “We know what soldiers coming from the field expect, and we do our best to satisfy them.”
On the surface it wouldn’t seem difficult to please someone who has been eating Meals, Ready to Eat for an extended period of time. But the cooks say that’s not the point.
“Me, I like my job,” said Spc. Robert Dominguez as he prepared a dish of chicken Parmesan. “I guess we just care a little more.”
And that caring comes across to the 800 or so soldiers and civilians who eat at the facility. Sgt. John Winden, a mechanic with the Nevada Army National Guard’s Company D, 113th Aviation Regiment, has eaten at a handful of facilities in southern Afghanistan and said that Qalat’s dining facility stands out for its food.
“Here, they actually have more of a variety,” he said. “One thing I like about it is they actually bring out hot food, it doesn’t just sit out forever. Other places just cook it and leave it out.”
The dining facility’s popularity, Winden said, is especially strong among his unit’s fuelers.
“They’d pick this place over all the other fueling points they’ve got,” he said.
Spc. Nick Krueger said that the fuelers aren’t alone.
“A lot of officers say, ‘Dude, you’ve got the best chow,’” he said. “They say, ‘And we’ve been to this base, this base and this base.’”
Henry said that it’s not the ingredients that make the Qalat dining facility the “in” place to eat among the military camps. They get the same food as everyone else. It’s just lots of little things that, taken together, make Qalat stand out.
He listed everything from receiving top marks for cleanliness and hygiene from preventive medicine inspectors to the fact that their eight Army cooks and handful of Afghan workers come from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
“We do things different,” said Henry, who speaks with a light Jamaican accent. “We research different foods, and if we have the ingredients to make it, we do.
“Baked ziti, for one,” he explained. “It’s one of the hottest items and it’s not a standard Army meal. We make apple cobbler and corn bread.”
Their baked ziti may not be like that served in a restaurant near their Vicenza, Italy, home base, but then they’re definitely not in Italy anymore.
Supplies have to be trucked from Kandahar each week. It’s a few-hour trip along a highway that has seen its share of roadside bombs and land mines.
Henry said that his cooks understand it’s not just their suppliers that face dangers outside the base. Their fellow soldiers face the same thing — if not worse — during their missions.
So, when a unit comes rolling in after normal meal hours, the dining facility’s soldiers will make sure that they, too, are fed. Henry said this is a fairly regular occurrence.
“If we have troops come in three hours after dinner … we’ll have hot chow for them,” he said. “We just make it happen. We try not to turn anybody down.”