Patriot chef adds spice to sea life
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 20, 2011
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — It’s not Seaman Kevin Fan’s personality that has made the rookie mineman the toast of the town aboard the USS Patriot. It’s his cooking.
The 27-year-old naturalized Chinese immigrant and former restaurant cook arrived at his first duty station in August and has quickly turned even the most mundane of dishes into something special, according to the ship’s crew.
“Did Fan cook this?” Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler King said one evening in late October as he sat down for a meal of fish around midnight. King looked around for assurances before diving in as Fan peered into the mess deck from behind the steam tables in kitchen.
“If a meal sucks, they have a bad day,” Fan said.
And his secret to success? “I bring Chinese style to my cooking,” he said. “When I’m seasoning, maybe I’ll put a little bit more in.”
Fan, who changed his name to Kevin from Xiaojun when he arrived in the United States, said he gets his love of cooking from his mother.
“My mom is a good cook and I learned to cook from her,” Fan said.
His family immigrated to Alameda, Calif., from the small city of Zhongshan in southern China in 2004 to be with grandparents who are U.S. citizens. By Fan’s own admission, his English was bad when he arrived in America, but he found work at a Hawaiian barbecue joint, where he toiled over pork, chicken, beef and sides.
The homesick immigrant’s life changed when he spoke with a U.S. Navy recruiter earlier this year. The recruiter, who was Chinese-American, told Fan about the opportunities that joining the service provided — and how he could continue to do what he loved — cooking.
“He told me about life in the Navy,” said Fan, who became a U.S. citizen during boot camp. “There are good benefits. That was the good part and I can learn something.”
Sailors on board the ship say Fan has a made a difference.
During a brief reprieve from watch on afternoon, Ensign Elliot Domio sat down in the ward room with lasagna, potatoes and salad.
“We have some new cooks doing some pretty amazing things with the same ingredients we’ve always had,” he said, referring to Fan. “It’s been a huge morale turnaround in that respect.”
Domio finished his meal and got up to leave, passing Lt. j.g. Casey Burnette, who entered with his plate of food. “The potatoes are really, really, really good,” he said.
New cook Seaman Kevin Fan mans the rails on board the Avenger-class mine countermeasure ship USS Patriot en route to annual exercises with the Japanese in late October. Fan, a newly minted sailor and American citizen, joined the Navy after moving to the U.S. from China in 2004 and working in Calif. as a cook at a barbeque joint. He prefers to let his cooking do the talking for him.
MATTHEW M. BURKE/STARS AND STRIPES