Heidelberg specialist making his mark at culinary contests
Stars and Stripes June 30, 2003
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Spc. Scott Graves loves to stir the pot — on and off duty.
Graves, 29, of Redding, Calif., a chef at U.S. Army Europe’s headquarters, spends much of his free time cooking and planning recipes to compete in civilian culinary contests.
“I work, because I love to cook,” said Graves, who who works at Campbell Barracks’ On Point Diner.
In May, Graves earned a bronze medal at the American Culinary Classic in Chicago, where he made pepper-seared venison in a morel mushroom blanket, wrapped in a crepe. His appetizer was a smoked rabbit loin with rosemary roasted potato salad, root vegetable kraut and poppy seed dressing.
Recently, one of Graves’ recipes was selected for the Custom Foods National Championship. More than 100 chefs nationwide submitted recipes, which had to contain at least two Custom products. Graves is among four finalists who will travel to Washington, D.C., to cook his recipe for the competition at the American Culinary Federation convention in July.
Last year, Graves won a gold medal in the Tyson Chicken competition in Las Vegas.
The son of an economist and medical worker, Graves is the first in his family to take up gastronomy as a profession. He thought about an Air Force career, but opted for civilian chef training instead.
Back in Redding, Graves began learning his craft during an apprenticeship at DeMercurio’s, a local fine-dining restaurant. While still in high school, he started doing prep work for chefs. He kept a logbook of all the cooking skills he practiced each week.
After learning the ropes, he took over as executive chef for a food court at Holiday Quality Foods, a grocery chain in Northern California that specializes in gourmet products. But as time passed, Graves faced the decision of moving to make ends meet. Chefs were already entrenched in most of the high-paying jobs in Redding with no plans of leaving.
“I didn’t want to move my family to a big city, just to make a living,” Graves said.
So in January 2000, he went to see to the local Army recruiter, who worked his enlistment so that Graves’ civilian experience would cover for the Army’s cook training. His only stipulation was to be stationed in Germany and to have his family with him.
After attending basic training at Fort Sill, Okla., he was assigned to the 47th Forward Support Battalion in Baumholder. As an Army line cook, Graves used his civilian-acquired culinary skills to spruce up everyday fare.
“I’d make omelets the best I could, and add a nice garnish,” Graves said.
In 2001, Graves took part in the USAREUR culinary arts competition in Grafenwöhr as part of the 104th Area Support Group Team. He met Master Sgt. Mark Warren, a career Army chef who keeps an eye out for quality Army cooks among the junior enlisted ranks.
“Graves is above average, even compared to the best cooks. And he stood out above the rest,” Warren said. “Cooking is in his heart. He has a love for the work he does.”
Warren offered a mentorship and a chance to cook at the On Point Diner, the mess hall for the U.S. Army Europe staff at Campbell Barracks. He works alongside Peter Wetter, a German chef who worked for the Army’s headquarters in Europe for 18 years.
“He’s very [focused] on what he does — calm, not hyper,” Wetter said. “There’s a big difference when you have someone with outside experience.”
Graves was selected as the 2002 Army junior chef of the year, and also joined the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team. In October 2002, the team won a gold medal in cold food buffet and silver in hot food competition during the Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg.
Cooking competitions are not new for Graves. Back home, he competed nearly a dozen times with the California Culinary Olympic Team.
His goal is to own his own restaurant. But for now, he has two more years to serve.
When not in the kitchen, Graves loves to travel with his wife, Carrie, and their three daughters: Chelcie, 10, Carren, 9, and Courtney, 5. While they like to go castle hunting, Disneyland Paris is a family favorite. They have been there twice.
“When I’m not at work, I’m finding out about the next competition,” Graves said. “But we’re always thinking about the next place to go sight-seeing.”