FORT LEE, Va. – Friday’s Armed Forces Chef of the Year showdown provided a hotly competitive start to this year’s Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event here.

The MCACTE is a means to train military food service personnel in a nurturing yet competitive environment. The Quartermaster School’s Joint Culinary Center of Excellence hosts the annual event that is sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation.

The winners in all events will be announced during an awards ceremony set for Friday.

More than 200 military culinary practitioners are expected to participate in various events to include individual skill competitions such as Armed Forces and Student Chef of the Year as well as team events like the Military Hot Food Kitchen Challenge.

The AFCY event, the most prestigious individual contest, attracted 18 entries—16 Soldiers and two Sailors. Competitors were given four hours to prepare a four-course meal based on a mystery basket concept, meaning they had no knowledge of the menu items until start time. Only well-studied, well-practiced chefs can successfully fulfill that type of requirement, said Sgt. Maj. Mark Warren, a judge and former winner.

“You have to be creative, adaptive, innovative and able to overcome obstacles as they hit you,” said the current food service sergeant major, G4, U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “You can’t panic. You just have to figure it out and keep moving forward.”

Goose and rabbit – entrées not likely seen in military dining facilities – were among the proteins included in the mystery basket for this year’s event. In addition to the challenge of figuring out how to prepare such game, the time limit in which to do it was another obstacle.

“The whole time management thing is big,” said Spc. Samuel Shaaheed, who represented the Fort Bragg team. “You get four hours to do the work, but those four hours feel like two.”

Shaaheed, who competed previously in the competition, said commitment to the profession drove him to take a shot at for chef of the year.

“It’s the ambition and passion I have,” he said. “It was something I wanted to do last year. Just the hype about it made it sound exciting. I want to win gold, and I want to win in general.”

The previous two winners have been featured in national magazines, but notoriety and prestige take a backseat to the event’s training theme, which is to provide participants with a competitive experience that pays dividends to end users, said Warren.

“I just hope the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who participate in this competition are able to learn something they can take back to their units and give something to the diners they support every day,” he said.

Sgt. Sarah Deckert earned the AFCY title in 2014. The Fort Sewart, Ga., team earned Installation of the Year honors.

Photos of the MCACTE will appear daily on the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence Facebook page – www.facebook.com/Army.Culinary. Additional articles will be posted on the Army News website and www.ftleetraveller.com.