USS Ashland cook earns high honors in stateside culinary competition
By JAMES BOLINGER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 3, 2018
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A Navy cook who helps feed hundreds of servicemembers aboard the USS Ashland recently received high honors in a culinary contest back in the States.
Seaman Kelija Rheubottom — the grandson of a Navy cook — placed third out of 132 junior chefs in a “student skills” competition during this spring’s 43rd Annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise at Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia.
The event pitted some of the best cooks from each military branch against one another for six weeks of training and eight days of competition where participants prepared up to 12 meals a day.
The servicemembers trained with top White House and Pentagon chefs ahead of the contest, which was judged by civilian executive chefs from the U.S., France, Germany and Japan.
For the skills competition, Rheubottom had to fabricate a chicken, fillet a fish, roll out a pastry crust, prepare vegetables and “supreme” — or perfectly peel and displace — an orange.
He also earned his Level 3 Culinary Chef de Connoisseur certification from the American Culinary Federation after completing the training and the competition.
The event wrapped up in time for Rheubottom to deploy aboard the dock landing ship with the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group.
The goal of military culinary competitions is to increase chefs’ skills and improve the quality of food served aboard ships like the Ashland, said Rhuebottom, who is teaching other junior chefs on the Ashland the French cooking techniques he learned.
The Ashland cooks, who serve more than 300 sailors each day while in port and an additional 350 Marines during deployments, focus on quality, he said. Rhuebottom learned how to use fresh herbs and spices the galley now uses when they’re available, which makes a huge difference in the taste of food when the menu is limited to a 21-day cycle.
“It can be as simple as eggs in the morning. When you are giving that person that sense of home with your cooking, it can really change someone’s day,” Rheubottom said. “Whether they work up in the pilot house, or down in the engine rooms, the job of a [culinary specialist] is very important.”
When Navy cooks put out hot food, on time, that looks good, complaints will go away, said Command Master Chief Ryan Colosimo, the senior enlisted sailor aboard the Ashland who spent his first 23 years in the Navy as a cook.
“Anytime you violate one of those three rules … you are going to stop your entire day — whatever you’ve got planned, whatever you are doing — and you are going to address that issue,” he said.