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The task for each of the 12 competitors was to use five preselected ingredients to prepare a creative meal for three judges, who rated the dishes on flavor and presentation.
This sounds like an episode of Iron Chef or Celebrity Cook-Off, but it actually describes Joint Base Lewis-McChords annual Food Service of the Year competition held Nov. 5 to 9.
For the first time in the history of the competition at JBLM, the contest included a hands-on element that allowed participants to showcase their techniques and creativity, said Sgt. Maj. Rickey Gaines, I Corps chief of food operations and board president of the competition. In years past, the competition included only an oral-board examination.
Soldiers are really good with questions and answers, but I wanted to see their craftmanship, Gaines said. The incentive for the two winners - one from the NCO category and one from the Soldier category - is a one-year assignment to JBLMs Bronson Hall, also known as the generals mess, where Gaines believes the winners skill sets will develop even more.
Since each competitor is assigned to a different dining facility on the installation, one goal of the competition is to improve the general food service quality on JBLM. The competition also allowed Gaines to identify candidates for the JBLM culinary arts team, which competes annually at the Army Quartermaster School at Fort Lee, Va.
The JBLM team has seen recent success in the competition, earning more gold medals in 2011 than any year before and earning a perfect score in the centerpiece category in 2012.
Soldiers identified at Fort Lee with exceptional skills become candidates for the U.S. Army culinary arts team, Gaines said. Those individuals compete at local, national and international competitions, and provide training and demonstrations all over the country.
The 12 participants won brigade competitions to earn their places in the installation contest.
The winners of the competition, Staff Sgt. Byron Watson, 1st Special Forces Group, and Pfc. Taneiqua Jackson, 16th CAB, had the highest combined scores from the hands-on competition and the oral board in their respective categories.
Gaines has a goal to establish a one- to two-week culinary course at JBLM, teaching military food service workers how to filet fish, cut vegetables, create tasty sauces and prepare meats.
But more importantly, the contest will help make JBLM one of the best food service programs in the military. There is no greater love than the love of food, Gaines said. Folks dont forget great flavor.