HONOLULU — Military chow never looked or tasted so good.

How about salmon with octopus tentacles in aspic with a wasabi sauce?

Or black chicken — the skin of this bird actually is black — and cherries stuffed with duck liver?

A team of about 20 junior enlisted Hawaii-based military cooks selected from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard are heading to the 38th annual U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Va., March 3 to 13.

On Wednesday at Scho­field Barracks, the star cooks got to show off their skills for some of Hawaii's highest-ranking brass and noncommissioned officers.

Among the taste-testers were Adm. Samuel Locklear III, head of U.S. Pacific Command; Gen. Herbert "Hawk" Carlisle, head of Pacific Air Forces; Lt. Gen. Terry Robling, who commands Marine Corps Forces Pacific; Maj. Gen. Kurt Fuller, head of the 25th Infantry Division; and Rear Adm. Charles Ray, head of the 14th District Coast Guard.

Locklear, who is in charge of the U.S. military in an area that covers half the globe, normally concerns himself with North Korea, China and lots of other issues in Asia and the Pacific.

On this day, though, he was sampling a three-course meal of seared sea scallops on spicy kim chee, "fine-dining loco moco" and Okinawan no-bake cheesecake — and showing his support for the military's unsung cooks.

The team will present Hawaii-inspired Asian fusion food at the competition.

"The culinary team — I am so proud that they took the concept of what's important to the people of Hawaii, who are great partners with our military, and took it and put it in the context of (the) competition back in Fort Lee, Va.," Locklear said.

Before the food was served, Locklear walked through the F-Quad barracks kitchen where the team has been practicing seven days a week and shook their hands.

"Basically, our team consists of all E5 (rank) and below, so they are all junior service people," said Navy Senior Chief Brandon Parry, one of the team's advisers.

Some of the cooks didn't know how to hold a chef's knife correctly when they started out, Parry said.

"So it's been training, training, training," he said.

Ray, who commands the Coast Guard's 14th District, has two Coast Guard cooks on the team representing Hawaii.

"It's true to the old saying that an army travels on its stomach, or with a ship, when a crew is well fed, they are happy," Ray said. "All of that is true, so these guys raising the level of their game to this kind of competition is good for the whole service."

The cooks that do that kind of duty generally don't get a lot of attention, "but it is really important, the work that they do, for everyone that is in the military," Ray said. "So to come here and support these guys that are at the top of their game shows the kind of support we should give them."

The approximately 30 military members and spouses who did the taste-testing Wednesday were served the three-course meal prepared off a military field kitchen on a trailer — a setting the team will face next month.

Eleven linen-covered tables were set up for the guests under tents on the F-Quad basketball court.

Army Spc. Shaniqua Smith, 23, one of the culinary team cooks, said the loco moco included seasoned sushi rice with stewed tomatoes, a demi-glace for the beef tenderloin and Spam tortellini.

Locklear, who admitted he is a loco moco aficionado, declared the military top chef version to be "outstanding."

Army Spc. Melissa Vasquez, 32, who just got back from Afghanistan with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade and is also one of the team's cooks, said it was "amazing, not intimidating" serving Hawaii's top brass.

"They are real people with good rank and good hearts, so it was really easy. They smiled and they were gracious," said Vasquez, who is from Philadelphia.

She's pretty confident going into the Fort Lee competition next month.

"I think personally, I'm going to kill it," she said. "I have a special souffle and I'm going to rock everyone's world with that."

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