JOINT BASE LEWIS MCCHORD, Wash. - Food service specialists from the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade put their culinary skills to the test and placed first and second at the annual Joint Base Lewis McChord cook of the year competition held Nov. 5 to 9.
Top honors went to Pfc. Taneiqua Jackson, a food service specialist with the 46th Aviation Support Battalion and Columbus, Ohio native, who earned the junior enlisted Cook of the Year title, while Sgt. Heidi’Ann Wallace, who grew-up in Miami and works as a rations manager with 1 -229th Attack Helicopter Battalion, placed second in the noncommissed officer category.
The competition pitted I Corps’ top 12 food specialists against one another in a variety of categories, including a formal board, in which a panel of leadership quizzed the cooks on basic Soldier knowledge, and a new hands-on portion. This year’s competition was the first year participants were judged on their hands-on culinary skills.
During the hands-on portion, Soldiers were evaluated by three judges on the taste, presentation and sanitation of the dish they prepared. All three elements are essential to food service specialists when preparing large quantities of food for Soldiers who eat in a common area. When the competition commenced, a “mystery basket” was placed before each competitor containing five unknown ingredients they would have to incorporate into their dish.
When the ingredients were revealed, Jackson said she was nervous about what she was going to make and unsure if the meal would turn out the way she wanted. Wallace, on the other hand, said was very excited about the ingredients and eager to get started.
Competitors dashed through the kitchen to grab various utensils and ingredients needed get their meals cooking. Every minute in the kitchen counted, as they only had two hours to prepare a meal and submit it for judging.
Just as the competitors added finishing touches to their entrees, the time was called and the critiquing began.
Jackson made an oven-baked chicken dish with shiitake mushrooms while Wallace added her unique brand of zest with baked chicken in a spicy Caribbean sauce.
“I always feel like I can do better,” said Jackson about the competition. “My competition was really good, so I was worried and I did not expect to win. When I found out I won, I thought they were joking but to find out I really won was exciting.”
Since joining the Army, Wallace and Johnson said working in the food service profession has provided them an opportunity to cultivate their own skills by learning from others they have met across the country.
“I got an insight on what other (dining facilities) are doing,” Wallace said. “Other noncommissioned officers, who have been in the Army longer than me, shared their experience with me. From them, I learned different ways of cooking and different techniques.”
Wallace, who is originally from Jamaica, joined the Army because she felt it was her duty to give back to the country that granted her citizenship.
Jackson’s passion for cooking, and desire to be financially stable, led her to enlist into the Army as a food service specialist. She felt that being an Army cook would help her increase her culinary skills.
Both Soldiers developed a passion for cooking in their youth, which stemmed from time spent in the kitchen with their family.
Wallace, who was inspired by her grandmother’s love of cooking, got her start preparing dishes for large crowds at age 14 when she would help cook holiday meals for the family.
“When you work in the DFAC, you work with different people, different cultures and different ways of doing things. So, when we come together, we share our experience so we can expand our knowledge beyond the basics that we know,” said Wallace.
Jackson, whose dad is a cook at a nursing home and whose uncle was also a military cook, is very familiar with providing services to those in need. She remembers cooking with her family members as early as nine, when her grandmother taught her how to make mashed potatoes from scratch.
“I love cooking,” Jackson said. “I knew the hours were long and we worked on Christmas and Thanksgiving but we do it for people who have nowhere else to go but the DFAC.”
What Jackson and Wallace enjoyed most about the competition was being able to see how well they ranked among their peers and seeing what everyone else brought to the table.
Placing in the competition is just one of the many accomplishments Soldiers from the 16th CAB have done for their DFAC. After only being open for three months, the 16th CAB DFAC was awarded the Culinary Art Award for the best small DFAC décor for Thanksgiving.