KANDAHAR PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
COMBAT OUTPOST EDGERTON, Afghanistan - When most people think of a steakhouse, images of an old western themed dining room filled with steaks and garnished bake potatoes are sure to follow.
Tucked in a small corner of southern Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Cookie’s Steakhouse is changing the way deployed soldiers view fine dining.
Its wood sides, aged and weathered, are complimented by matching picnic tables. The soldiers' fine china is often cardboard disposable trays and plastic utensils.
Unlike most food joints, the kitchen is located under a green tent separated from the actual dining hall and lacks much of the necessities like stoves and deep fryers. The lack of equipment, often times, leaves the cooking and preparing of food up to the imagination of the chef, owner and server: Spc. William Kennedy.
“The biggest challenge is keeping everyone happy with limited resources,” said Kennedy, a cook assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
For Kennedy, a Cleveland, Ohio, native, keeping everyone happy means working long hours.
On average, the Ohioan spends more than twelve hours preparing and cooking food three times a day.
In addition to working long hours he said the key to being a successful cook is to add variety and of course, ‘cook as much steak as possible’.
Because steak is a rare treat, much of the daily menu is left up to supply and the creativity of Kennedy and its not rare to see something as simple as a tuna fish sandwich as the daily special.
“It’s one of those things you learn as you go,” he said. “You just have to learn how to use your spices even if it’s something simple.”
For example, on one particular day, Kennedy used Parmesan cheese packets to spice up a box of tasteless potatoes. Although simple, it made a world of difference to the soldiers who have become accustomed to flavorless meals-ready-to-eat.
Kennedy said cooking back home for his wife and son inspires his creativeness in the kitchen in Afghanistan and added that although there may not be the most high tech appliances, there is enough between his skills and imagination to feed any force.
“He works really hard and is always trying something new,” said Staff Sgt. Harry Space, an Infantryman assigned to the Security Assistance Forces Team with the 1-5 Inf. “He’s always in the kitchen.”
On average, Cookie’s feeds 75 – 100 hungry soldiers and offers three meals a day.
Sarcastically named after a former cook, Cookie’s doesn’t offer many of the same amenities as traditional establishments but Kennedy said it offers one thing many soldiers don’t have the privilege of getting and that’s a warm meal.
“When you come back from mission and you haven’t eaten anything, it’s nice to have a cooked meal waiting on you,” Space said.
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This work, Combat steakhouse: Not your typical mom and pop restaurant, by SSG Thomas Duval, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.