News: Top military cooks compete in Fort Hood ‘Iron Chef’
Story by Sgt. William White
FORT HOOD, Texas - A handful of Fort Hood’s finest culinary artists showcased their skills while competing in the Fort Hood Iron Chef competition at the Culinary Arts Center Oct. 21.
The top chefs from every division in III Corps were selected first by their brigades to be eligible to compete in the event.
“There are some hard chargers here today,” said Sgt. 1st Class Zamain D. Brown, culinary arts team manager at the III Corps and Fort Hood Culinary Arts Center. “They’re representing their brigades and they’re bringing the best.”
The all-star lineup of Fort Hood’s best cooks included eleven food service specialists, an Army veteran and student of Central Texas College culinary program and a wheeled vehicle mechanic – the first competitor in the events’ history who represented a military occupational specialty outside of food service.
Chefs were given two hours to prepare a three-course cuisine, satisfying gourmet restaurant quality demands in preparation, appearance and taste.
Ingredients used in the competition were mainly whole foods ranging from fruits and vegetables that the competitors chopped or diced, to whole chickens which competitors had to cut and fabricate into their desired portions.
“We’re using the exact same foods that come out of the field catalogue,” said Brown. “The purpose is to promote the growth of food services and let them know there is more you can do than flipping a burger on a grill.”
Members of Fort Hood’s culinary team judged competitors in the kitchen on sanitation and preparation method. They each had two hours to prepare an appetizer, main entrée and a dessert. The secret ingredient, avocado, was told to them upon entry into the kitchen, and was required to be used in the meal.
Another area competitors were judged on was the dietary portioning and nutrition of their meals.
“We have a new generation of Soldiers coming in,” said Brown. “Society is a lot less physical and a lot of these guys will spend their downtime playing video games instead of going to the gym or the basketball court.”
The Army’s emphasis on wholesome and healthy food is more evident each year, Brown said.
“Nutrition for the soldiers is becoming more important and quality food is good for morale,” said Brown.
Once the contestants’ meals were prepared, they were brought out to the judges, who evaluated on presentation, composition, complementation, portioning and of course, taste.
All of the meals received positive reviews, but a few stood out to the judges. Particularly, an avocado medley made by Spc. Syretha Crawford, a food service specialist with F Company, 2-82 Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, earning Crawford first place in the cookoff.
Her winning meal constituted an appetizer of avocado shrimp bisque, a main course of avocado blend wrapped in chicken breast – wrapped in bacon, followed by an avocado cheesecake for dessert.
Spc. Jeramie L. Colyer was the only competitor representing a profession rather than a dining facility.
“Cooking is relaxing,” said Colyer, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with the 64th Military Police Company, 720th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade. “There is nothing better than when somebody tastes your food and actually likes and appreciates it.”
The mechanic’s French chicken breast with lemon ricotta and grilled asparagus covered in avocado cream sauce earned him a respectable second place.
“It really felt good to know that I still got it after turning wrenches for two years,” said Colyer.
Colyer has experience cooking for two restaurants in Texas before joining the army as a mechanic. He had never cooked competitively – not bad for a wrench turner.
The competitors were there to win, but the goal of the event was to learn and develop, and they did just that, Brown said.
“A lot of these guys will take what they learn here and use these ideas back in their dining facilities which gives more options and better taste to the consumers, the soldiers,” said Brown.
“Hopefully this event will impact soldiers down the line in Afghanistan or combat operations overseas,” said Brown. “After patrolling or working for eighteen hours, they can say ‘Wow, I had a good meal.”