FORT LEE, Va. (March 10, 2011) -- Each year, the Culinary Arts Competition becomes more diverse, and in 2011, it was no different.
The Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy all brought teams to compete.
Three teams took it a step further and brought the best cooks from their installations - regardless of their service branch.
Joint Base Langley-Eustis is competing for the second year as a joint base, and has Air Force and Army chefs. Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., is attending for their first year as a joint base and also has Air Force and Army chefs in its ranks. The Pentagon, which regularly sends chefs of different services, touts at least one service member each from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Army.
Sgt. Maj. Ricky Gaines, joint base coordinator for food service at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., visited the competition to support the joint team. He said when the installation became joint, it brought new ideas to the culinary program there.
"It added a great capability - since we became Joint Base Lewis-McChord - it opened up another door to be able to go to the Air Force side of the house to look at its food service personnel and the capabilities they had," Gaines said. "The Air Force members were very excited to be part of the joint team."
Sgt. Steven Baca, team manager for the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, said this was his first time working with Airmen, but the team grew from learning about each other's cooking styles.
"It has added diversity and encouraged a better unity at the installation," said Baca. "As far as the team and personnel go, it's the same as if it were an all-Army team - it's all for the love of food. "
The Pentagon team has experience working with each service, as there are multiple joint dining facilities and they cook together every day.
"All the different dining facilities in the Pentagon have pretty good cohesion," said Navy Culinary Specialist Chief Derrick Davenport, team manager for the Pentagon team. "We work together because we provide service to the top military and civilian officials. It was just a matter of getting us together and getting some practice."
The hardest part of getting a joint service team at the Pentagon was just finding time to practice, said Davenport.
"The primary hiccup was because of our personnel and the jobs we do - it's hard to give the time to practice," he said. "A lot of time we work a full day and clean the kitchens - and then just mess them up all over again after hours and on the weekends. Some other posts actually dedicate their team members for the competition, and we didn't get the opportunity to do that."
This year, the Pentagon is also going for its first installation of the year title, as it's the first year the team has a full team - and as of Wednesday, it was in the running for first with three gold medals and three silver medals.
Air Force Senior Airman Nathaniel Nelson, a chef from JBLM, is attending the competition for the first time and said he is pleased with his work - he's medaled in every category he's participated in, including earning gold for junior chef of the year.
"It's awesome that the Air Force members got to come out and do this," Nelson said. "I've learned more in this competition about fine dining than I have in eight years."