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Culinary Arts Competition

Service members hone their cooking skills

Published: 02:17PM February 13th, 2014
Service members hone their cooking skills

By Jake Dorsey/Northwest Guardian

Guests examine trays of pastries during the Culinary Arts Competition.

Fifteen service members from Joint Base Lewis-McChord were in a big rush to serve others Feb. 7.

The group of Airmen and Soldiers from units across the base formed team JBLM for the Army’s annual Culinary Arts Competition, with finals held at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence in Fort Lee, Va. The competition, billed as one of the largest culinary cook-offs in the country, pits 12-person military teams from across the U.S. against each other. There are also events for individual cooks.

JBLM’s team put out three courses for about 45 people in Building 3417. Members used little more than a Mobile Kitchen Trailer to prepare the first two courses, but baked pastries in the building’s kitchen, said team leader Sgt. 1st Class Marcos Alan Camin.

The cooks, all sergeants or higher, worked in the roughly 12-foot-by-12-foot tented kitchen to form salmon cakes, roast meat and chop asparagus. Camin said everyone on the team can cook; they all work in dining facilities or as cooks in their units.

As for cooking downrange? Well, they can do just about anything, Camin said, “if they have the right recipes, the right products and the right training.”

Training Feb. 7 required Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Yarborough, Sgt. Chantha Roeun and Sgt. Bernardo Rios to hustle as they ran the few dozen meters from the MKT to the back kitchen, hauling stainless steel tubs and trays of salmon cakes, meat and other parts of the menu.

Yarborough was on the All-Military team before, Camin said, and she will take the other 11 finalists to Fort Lee. Camin will not be with them, scheduled for a school during the competition, he said.

Another one of the team members is Senior Airman Janaya Mosley. She’s part of what makes JBLM’s team unique: while most teams include members from one service, Joint Base Lewis-McChord combines Airmen and Soldiers. “I was a little bit nervous at first, coming over here and knowing it was going to be all Army,” Mosley said, “but they’ve all been just fine, and we all get along.”

Mosley is one of two Airmen who competed to make the team, Camin said. The team started at about 30, and through training and practice was narrowed to the 12 it has now, plus three alternates ready to jump in if military or personal obligations intervene.

For the competition, Mosley, 23, is one of four wait staff. She can cook just as the others can, but only four team members are allowed to work the MKT for the competition. “Mainly I do the pastries,” she said.

Her petit fours, French-style confections that she carefully crafted to look like sushi, were on static display in the dining area.

“It’s very different from being at my normal DFAC and cooking 200 servings of mashed potatoes every day,” Mosley said, “to making six perfect, individual, 1-inch-in-diameter cakes.”

There were three sets of “judges” for the practice run, Camin said — himself, civilians Ben Tesoro and Jerry Bidal, and everyone dining that day. Each table had sheets for diners to fill out with comments about the meal, including presentation, wait staff, food temperature and texture, taste — anything they had to say.

JBLM’s new Senior Enlisted Adviser, Command Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Woods, had only good comments for the group.

“All the presentations have been spot on,” Woods said after completing the second course. “Everything’s been tasty, and the chefs will do well at the competition.”

Woods said he enjoyed the salmon cakes most, a vote of confidence echoed by Sgt. 1st Class Russell Kojo of I Corps.

“Those salmon cakes were amazing,” he said. His only complaint is that he wanted them to be bigger so he could have more.

The competition begins in March.