Marines’ cuisine reigns supreme during international competition for military chefs

Staff Sgt. Erica Melendres, Team USA, plates a desert at the Joint Culinary Training Exercise at Fort Lee, Va., on March 13, 2019.


By JAMES BOLINGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 26, 2019

The Marine Corps for the first time has claimed top honors as the culinary team of the year at the Armed Forces Chef of the Year competition in Fort Lee, Va.

The American Culinary Federation awarded 293 medals March 15 at the conclusion of the two-week training event and competition at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, according to a statement from the center.

Teams from the United States, France, Great Britain and Canada — more than 200 military chefs from 22 installations — took part in the Joint Culinary Training Exercise, which began March 8. It’s the largest event in North America sanctioned by the culinary federation, and has been held annually for the past 44 years.

“The Joint Culinary Training Exercise is about improving readiness of our armed forces,” Joint Culinary Center of Excellence spokeswoman Daneta Johnson said in an email to Stars and Stripes. “The competing military members are able to hone their skills as culinary arts specialists and improve the quality of food services to their units, enabling them to better perform their duties at home and in a deployed environment.

The teams competed for the title of armed forces chef of the year and in the International Two-Chef Culinary Challenge, in which 13 judges critiqued their culinary creations, she said.


Johnson said the Marines conquered seven categories to claim top honors: 

  • Mobile hot food kitchen: A five-person team cooks a four-course gourmet meal for 50 people utilizing military kitchen trailer equipment.
  • Student teams: A five-person team, in which each member has less than two years of experience, creates a three-course meal.
  • Table display: A team creates a cold food table with six mandatory dishes supporting a common theme to showcase a culinary work of art.
  • Nutrition: A two-person team prepares a four-course meal where the caloric value doesn’t exceed 850 kilocalories and the balance is 15-20 percent protein, 45-60 percent carbohydrates, 25-30 percent fat.
  • Student chef: An individual with less than two years of experience cooks a meal with a set protein.
  • Armed forces chef: Individuals create a four-course meal from a mystery basket to be recognized as chef of the year.
  • Pastry chef: An individual creates a hot/warm plated dessert and a live decoration of a celebration cake.


The goal of each team is to compete against industry standards and not against one another, Johnson said. Each team may earn a gold, silver or bronze medal in each category, but if the dish does not meet or exceed the standard, then no medal will be given in that category. The judges awarded 42 gold medals, 112 silver medals and 139 bronze medals. The winners in each category are:

  • Culinary Team of the Year: Marine Corps
  • Judges Award, Best in Show: Sgt. Bruce Serafica, Fort Carson, Colo.
  • Armed Forces Master Chef of the Year: Chief Petty Officer Frida Karani
  • Armed Forces Chef of the Year: Spc. Mark Caseres, Team Hawaii
  • Armed Forces Student Chef of the Year: Lance Cpl. Christopher Sanchez, Marine Corps
  • Army Enlisted Aide of the Year: Staff Sgt. Justin Chase, U.S. Cyber Command, Fort Meade, Md.
  • Student Team Competition: Fort Drum, N.Y.
  • International Team of the Year: Team France
  • Military Hot Food Kitchen: Fort Carson, Colo.
  • Nutritional Hot Food Challenge: Sgts. Klinton Bautista and Clarence Robinson, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
  • Pastry Chef of the Year: Sgt. Samantha Poe, Washington, D.C. - Best Exhibit in Show (Category D, Culinary Showpiece): Spc. Mark Pulido, Fort Bliss, Texas
  • Judges Special Award (Cold Food Table): Team Hawaii

Several winners will move on to compete at the American Culinary Federation National Convention and Show Aug. 4-8 in Orlando, Fla. Nine chefs earned spots on the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team, which will compete at the Culinary Olympics in February in Stuttgart, Germany.

Twitter: @bolingerj2004

American Culinary Federation judges taste a contemporary hot food entry at the Joint Culinary Training Exercise at Fort Lee, Va., on March 12, 2019.

Sgt. Nickesha Carmichael, a culinary arts specialist from Fort Drum, N.Y., competed at the Joint Culinary Training Exercise at Fort Lee, Va., on March 9, 2019.

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