FORT LEE, VA, UNITED STATES
FORT LEE, Va. - Several members of the Fort Campbell Culinary Arts Team came away with medals from the 37th annual Culinary Arts Competition, including Pfc. Nicholas Marker of the 101st Sustainment Brigade.
Overall, the team came away with one Gold Medal, three Silver Medals, and 11 Bronze Medals. Marker, competing in his second competition, received a third-place medal in the Contemporary Cooking Arts category. His Bronze Medal winning dish was a pan seared duck with mashed sweet potatoes and sautéed snap peas and shitaki mushrooms.
He also received a Bronze medal as a member of the Fort Campbell Field Cooking team.
"The judges this year were real sticklers, and for a Pfc. to come out and do this well is an achievement," said Maj. Jamie Carson, Public Affairs spokesperson for the Combined Arms Support Command. "There were sergeant first classes who competed in this competition for the first time in their careers. He's got to be pretty pumped."
Marker, a food service specialist assigned to the 101st Sustainment Brigade Dining Facility, was his harshest critic.
"My performance could have been better in how I did with the timing and preparation of my dish," he said.
Marker said he had never prepared a duck before, and not listening to more experienced chefs on how to properly prepare one cost him points.
"It was hard to bet the concept of doing the pan-sear. As I pulled it out of the pan, it didn't look crusted enough, but I didn't really listen to the others as they gave me advice. I wanted it to be my dish," he said.
Brigade food adviser, Chief Warrant Officer Three Joseph Wisniewski, said the event is not only about competing against the best cooks, it's also about learning.
"Everyone talks and learns from one another. We come here to win the gold, but we also come here to learn," he said.
This is the second team Wisniewski has led from Fort Campbell, which is comprised of food service specialists from the 101st Airborne Division's various brigade combat teams.
The Culinary Arts Competition is a two-week long event where the military's best cooks from around the world square off against each other in a variety of food preparation challenges, which include field team cooking, a senior chef competition, a contemporary cooking competition, and preparing a “mystery dish” with unknown food items provided.
Wisniewski said this year's team was fairly young, comprised of one staff sergeant and the rest specialist and below, but was improved from the previous year's team.
"We had more time to prepare and a longer period to get ready," he said. "We were able to get a containerized kitchen to practice with, and it made a lot of difference. They were actually able to cook the meals they planned using the equipment they needed, and were able to learns the ins and outs of that kitchen," he said.
The cooks spent the past two weeks preparing their dishes in a fast paced environment, working 15 hours a day on average, Wisniewski said. They spent 24 hours preparing their cold table dishes for that particular event, he said.
"Some of them found out how really tough it is compete in one of these. Lots of long hours and late nights," he said. "You can't really compensate for sleep, so you try to keep a light-hearted approach to the competition in those cases."
Next step for the team is heading back to Fort Campbell and build on this year's experience. For Marker, he said he'll continue taking his Culinary Arts classes at Austin-Peay State University to learn even more about his craft.
"It was a lot of hard work for this bronze medal," he said.
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