LAKE CHARLES, La. - A large group of men and women wearing white and red coats moves around the kitchen like clockwork. Professional-grade kitchenware litters every available space on the white walls. Neatly placed pastries line trays that are stacked in metal racks.
The smell of exotic spices and flame-grilled meats quickly neutralizes any lingering scent. Low humming and chitchat comes from a nearby walk-in refrigerator. Heat radiates from ovens and stoves. Army food service specialists (cooks) wearing gloves are diligently working on creative dishes.
This was the scene at the L’auberge Casino Resort in Lake Charles, La., Tuesday.
Cooks from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), and other units stationed at Fort Polk, La., sharpened their culinary skills to improve the morale of soldiers, and to maintain mission readiness for the Brigade’s upcoming deployment.
“We’re here at the L’auberge to do a little training with the industry,” said Sgt. 1st Class Sharod Johnson, a food service operations sergeant at Golf Company, 5th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment stationed here. “We have eight junior chefs working with the chefs down here to prepare themselves for the 38th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee.”
Johnson is currently the post team manager of the Fort Polk Culinary team.
Last year the Fort Polk Culinary Team finished in seventh place out of 16 teams.
“Being on this team is an honor and a privilege,” said Cpl. Michael R. Fichman Sr., a food service specialist at Fox Forward Support Company 2nd Battalion 30th Infantry Regiment stationed here. “It’s good for the soldiers to get out there and do this type of training.”
The training is in preparation for the 38th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Va. The competition is scheduled for March 2-15, 2013. The competition is the largest culinary competition in North America.
“Team Fort Polk is going for Installation of the Year,” Fichman said. “With the training available to us at the L’auberge, we hope to place in the top three.”
The L’auberge Casino offers all the training free of charge to the Army. The casino also covers lodging and food expenses. This is the second year that the L’auberge has participated in the training with industry program.
“This is actually our second time down here,” Johnson said. “We’re just trying to keep pace with the rest of the Army. The Army is doing a lot of training with the industry, and this is Fort Polk’s chance to keep up pace with the rest of the Army. I’m feeling pretty good with where they are at. We’re right on pace on where we need to be at for the competition. We still have about three weeks left. They shown great improvement since we first got down here.”
Training with industry programs is available in a wide variety of military occupational specialties. The program keeps soldiers up to date with their civilian counterparts in their industries so that they may bring back new-business practices to the Army.
“I’m looking forward to cross training once we get back to share some of the knowledge that they learned here,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to more teamwork from the Soldiers here to put out a good product.”
He could share the skills that he had learned at the L’auberge with other cooks, Fichman said.
He could teach the other cooks how to give vegetables an ice bath to preserve freshness.
“Chow is a morale builder,” Fichman said. “A hungry soldier won’t fight.”