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Mystery ingredients deliver winning results at JBLM Food Show & Culinary Competition

Northwest Guardian

Published: 05:24PM June 12th, 2014

French toast bacon cupcakes ... with wasabi powder glaze.

Imagine that as part of a three-course meal cooked up on a Mobile Kitchen Trailer outside of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s American Lake Conference Center.

Then broadcast it live for a couple hundred people in the center.

It was just part of the entertainment at JBLM’s first Food Show & Culinary Competition held June 4.

Captain Amanda Turcotte, 627th Force Support Squadron, said the four teams competed to deliver the best appetizer, entree, dessert and display. The teams set their menus before the competition, but food show vendors added mystery ingredients.

The appetizer had to include peanut M&Ms. The entree: canned apple pie filling. The wasabi powder was for dessert.

“They can use it any way they want,” Turcotte said amidst pans clattering and whisks swishing. “They just have to use it.”

Hence the glaze on the cupcakes, said Carlos Rodriguez, a food service worker in the McChord Child, Youth and School Services building. The Team Four “leader” also had the idea to use the M&Ms for the crab-cake appetizer.

Rodriguez’s teammate, Spc. Darrell Riley of 1st Special Forces Group, didn’t have any formal cooking background. It was one of the many unique parts to the competition: each team had one cook who wasn’t a professional.

“I grew up in an old-school country family,” Riley said. “We love cooking from scratch. Ever since I was a kid, I was in the kitchen, cookin’.”

Team One’s Taylor Ferguson, 20, said she had never even worked on an MKT. The Airman first class was too young, Turcotte said, adding that the Air Force long ago decommissioned its inventory of MKTs.

Ferguson took it in stride.

“If it were spread out a little bit, maybe arranged different, it’d be just like my kitchen at home,” she said. “The flaming burners are new though.”

As the cooks prepared their dishes for the judges, Food Show attendees sampled from 16 vendors, including Brakebush, SunOpta, Simplot, LambWeston and more.

Alys Jackson and Leah Crawford said they had never eaten some of the food being served, such as Brakebush’s potato-crusted chicken tenders.

“I’ve never even seen most of these brands before at our commissary,” Crawford said.

She and Jackson liked the tenders the most, and ALCC baker/cook Scott Hoagland had to agree. The professional chef came out from helping in the kitchen to try the tenders.

“The flavor is wonderful,” Hoagland said. “You can tell the really nice potato-y crunch on the chicken mixes very well.”

At 12:45 p.m., the crowd watched as the judges sat down to enjoy four appetizers each, entrees and desserts. Brigadier General Kurt J. Ryan, commanding general of the 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, JBLM commander Col. H. Charles Hodges Jr. and 62nd Airlift Wing commander Col. David J. Kumashiro sampled and savored the entries and scored the teams.

Even with the mixing of professional and nonprofessional cooks, Army and Air Force, civilian and military, old hands still came out on top: Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Yarbrough and her partner, Senior Airman Joseph Ruiz. Yarborough was a winner at the U.S. military’s culinary competition at Fort Lee, Va. earlier this year.