FORWARD OPERATING BASE MASUM GHAR, Afghanistan Everyone who has ever seen the television show Iron Chef America knows how hot and hectic it can get in a kitchen.
Now imagine an Iron Chef challenge in Afghanistan where the temperatures inside and outside the kitchen can reach well over 100 degrees, the cooking spaces are tight, supplies are limited and there are more than 300 hungry Soldiers to feed.
On the morning of Aug. 10, Staff Sgt. Anquone Conyer, the dining facility NCOIC for the Masum Ghar chow hall, put together his own Iron Chef challenge between two of his cooks, Spc. Van Casis and Pfc. James Bradbury. Both Soldiers are with the 296th Brigade Support Battalion of 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Divison the Arrowhead Brigade.
Conyer gathered Casis and Bradbury into the front of the dining facility and kicked off the competition by reading off the rules and revealing the secret ingredient beef tenderloin.
In the kitchen it was chaotic, you have only four or five pieces of equipment to use with very limited space, Bradbury said.
Both chefs had 90 minutes to prepare the tenderloin in their most creative way, but they also had to serve 300 Soldiers and have five plates on the table by 11 a.m. to be judged.
Its a huge humbling experience to put out something unique and worry if someone will like it, Bradbury said. Its a big deal and it takes a lot of guts. You have to be really confident in that final product.
The judging was based on a points system: 10 points for taste, five points for plating, another five points for originality and the final 10 points based on the popular vote.
Once Casis and Bradbury had their secret ingredient in hand the cooking began.
Both chefs worked quickly, but methodically, as they prepared their meals against the clock with only one sous chef to help them in the kitchen.
Bradbury took a creative approach with a well-known energy drink in Afghanistan and created a sauce with it.
Watching the show Iron Chef America, and seeing those chefs create innovative things with ordinary food we eat every day is what inspired me, Bradbury said. I wanted to go for big bold flavor on a nice piece of meat.
Casis took a more conventional approach with a cognac sauce, but because there is no alcohol in the combat theater he substituted sparkling grape juice for the cognac.
When the chefs time had expired, both Casis and Bradbury had completed their mission and were ready to be judged. Casis presented his meal to the judges first; it consisted of beef tenderloin roulade stuffed with mushrooms, pan-seared and then oven-roasted, handmade onion crisps and his sparkling grape juice sauce.
Next Bradbury presented his pan-seared, oven-roasted tenderloin topped with a bacon onion relish and sauce with handmade, crispy, spring onion straws and cooked carrots cut into the shape of flowers.
The judges critiqued both meals and were very satisfied. Overall the judges main complaint with both meals, besides wanting more, was that each chef might have been a little heavy-handed with the pepper.
This competition was a fun way to not only gauge our skill set, but also get a chance to show it off a little, Bradbury said. Food is huge on morale, so if we can make sure Soldiers are having a good meal, it makes us feel good, he said.
After all the votes had been tallied and the points added up, Casis emerged the winner with a total of 104.9 points to Bradburys 95.5.
Being able to participate in these competitions with the support of my fellow Soldiers in the unit allows me to get more experience with culinary arts, show off what I can do, and have the Soldiers appreciation that makes it worth it, Casis said. Regardless of if I won or lost, it was just a fun thing to do.
Conyer hopes to challenge other field feeding teams and continue the competition until there is only one champion Iron Chef in southern Afghanistan.