The Joint Culinary Training Exercise launched into its 45th edition Friday as 15 military chefs from throughout the U.S. military displayed their kitchen prowess, creativity and moxie during the Armed Forces Chef of the Year event.
The AFCOY is the JCTE’s marquee event, offering bragging rights to the culinarian who best displays the cooking, presentation skills, creativity and savviness emblematic of the title. Past titleholders – aside from positively affecting food service programs at various levels – have gone on to grace national magazine covers and appear as guests on popular TV shows.
Army Sgt. Anthony McKoy was one of this year’s contestants on the culinary team from Fort Campbell, Ky. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native and competition first-timer said that while the event challenged him in many ways, he was struck by its sense of community and shared values.
“It’s good to see people who are like-minded, who appreciate this art and are willing to step up to the plate and test where they stand and where they can improve,” said the 35-year-old.
The competition requires chefs to prepare a four-course meal in four hours with a list of ingredients not known until the event starts. Additionally, their performances are scrutinized by judges of the American Culinary Federation, the JCTE’s sanctioning body.
Doug Fisher, one of the judges, said his job is to assess performances based on hard criteria.
“Are they choosing the right cooking techniques for the proteins they’re using? Are they making good (food) combinations? And, do they have great flavor? That’s what we’re looking for,” Fisher said.
The contestants were exhausted by the end of the event, and most were humbled by their experiences. Some were visibly proud of their work. A smiling Petty Officer 1st Class Danielle Hughes of the U.S. Coast Guard noted her approach was all about stimulating the taste buds.
“Honestly, aesthetics are everything in cooking, but I wanted to put out food that tasted good,” said the seven-year culinary specialist, who is stationed in Washington, D.C. “Being in the service and being on boats and cooking for my crews, the food is the morale. I know how food excites me so I wanted to excite the judges and give them an awesome-tasting dish.”
Hughes earned a silver medal for her performance, one of four awarded. No contestant earned a gold. The winner will not be announced until the awards ceremony Friday.
In addition to AFCOY, the JCTE features the Student Chef of the Year challenge (for less experienced chefs), Installation of the Year (for teams), and an international category that has featured teams from Britain, Germany and France in the past.
The JCTE’s stated goal is to offer military members a training opportunity in a professional but nurturing environment. They are expected to use their experiences to train others and help improve food services where they are stationed.
For more information about this year’s JCTE, visit www.facebook.com/army.culinary.