European edition, Saturday, June 9, 2007

NAPLES, Italy — The mention of meat and potatoes might make you salivate if you’re hungry, but it doesn’t often conjure up images of culinary art.

But make no mistake, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Hanford, his meat and potato dishes are anything but routine and boring and don’t only serve to feed a hungry belly.

“I’m a meat-and-potatoes guy and can take that meat and potatoes and go anywhere with it. It’s anything but boring,” the 11-year naval culinary specialist said.

That knack for flourish and creativity contributed to the 33-year-old Navy chef’s certification as a Personal Certified Executive Chef, an acclaimed certification from the American Culinary Federation, he said.

He’s the second sailor to earn it, and one of three in all the U.S. military to reach the career milestone, said Hanford, the personal chef for Adm. Harry Ulrich, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and of Allied Joint Force Command, Naples.

“I wanted to do it because it was the highest goal I could go for as a personal accomplishment. I don’t brag about it or anything, but I know I’ve accomplished a lot.”

A chef certified as a PCEC must prove advanced culinary skills, have a minimum of six years of professional cooking experience and a minimum of two years as a personal chef, and must pass written and practical exams. Applicants are tested on a variety of skills beyond the stove, from menu planning to running a household that includes managing a staff and budgets and keeping a kitchen spick-and-span, Hanford said.

The certification helps more for future endeavors once he leaves the military, he said.

Hanford already has gotten a taste of the tough competition in the civilian culinary world.

Hanford, who had served in the Navy for four years, worked in the executive culinary field for two hotels in Florida — at the same time.

“It wasn’t enough to survive,” he said. “I wasn’t earning enough to support two children and a wife.”

So back to the Navy he went after a four-year hiatus.

He met his wife of 11 years, Constanza, while in culinary school.

“There’s definitely a rivalry between us,” he said. “But she’s fabulous. I put her above me.”

Hanford is one of four sailors to serve on the first Navy culinary team. He is looking forward to competing against the world’s top chefs in the 2008 Culinary Olympics in Germany.

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