It was another great year for first-time winners as the U.S. Coast Guard earned the title of Culinary Team of the Year at the 45th Annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise here.  Coast Guard Rear Adm. Dana Thomas, director of Health, Safety & Work-life, was ecstatic to see them win at the end of today’s awards ceremony.

“I’m so proud and so incredibly grateful for what you do every day,” she stressed to everyone on the team. “We need good food. Why? Because good food is morale. It’s not only health, it’s nutrition which is the cornerstone of our health. You all are the way to get to good eating and a good sense of nutrition and our own health.

“Congratulations again to you for your win.”

During the ceremony at the Lee Theater, 225 American Culinary Federation (ACF) medals were awarded to 185 culinary professionals from all U.S. military branches around the globe to include international teams from the United Kingdom, Germany and France.

JCTE started March 7 with the Armed Forces Chef of the Year category and continued until Thursday. The exercise, administered by the Fort Lee-based Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, is the largest ACF-sanctioned competition in North America. This year's exercise showcased the talents of 19 teams that submitted 333 total judged entries.

"We’ve now started to realize just how important nutrition is to our warriors, and we’re trying to change the culture of fitness in our Army,” said Gen. Paul E. Funk II, Commanding General, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, through live video conferencing before the award ceremony began. “So, recognizing that nutrition is a vital component to our overall fitness and those that prepare it ought to be the best in the world, I salute every one of you that competed. And for those of you that won, I can’t wait to come to your chow hall, so I can come take a bite.”

Funk added that the chefs are fueling the warrior athlete. “That’s an incredible responsibility. It’s also a vital component to readiness. Everything we’re doing is about our people strategy. We’re recognizing that our Army is people, and people have to eat quality things, prepared by world-class professionals. That’s where you all come in,” he said.

Ten teams vied for Culinary Team of the Year with the Fort Campbell, Ky., team as the runner up to the Coast Guard. Fort Drum, N.Y., took home the title of Armed Forces Student Team of the Year after earning a bronze award for a two-phase event testing their understanding of the fundamental building blocks to being a chef. Chef Roland Schaeffer, lead judge, ACF, passed on tips to the students throughout the competition and during the ceremony. 

“To become a better chef you have to have pride and passion in what you do,” Schaeffer advised. “Don’t depend on others, educate yourself, read cookbooks, vocational magazines, attend culinary seminars and find yourself a mentor to help you become a better, stronger culinarian. We look forward to seeing you again next year.”

Team members from the Marine Corps, which topped last year’s competition, won recognition this year with Armed Forces Pastry Chef of the Year Gunnery Sergeant Michael Watts and Master Chef of the Year Staff Sgt. Hiram Carrion-Rodriguez. Master chef is the highest individual award recognizing an outstanding culinarian working in a full-service facility, who demonstrates the highest standards, helps advance American cuisine and develops students and apprentices. 

Again the Coast Guard earned big as Culinary Specialist 1st Class Danielle Hughes earned Armed Forces Chef of the Year, while Fort Carson, Colo., Pfc. Oscar Cardona was awarded Student Chef of the Year.

“I feel really great right now,” said first-time competitor Cardona, who has been cooking professionally less than a year.  “I had a lot of pressure from my mentors and trainers, as they were expecting a lot from me. I’m just happy that I delivered.”

He also delivered by earning a spot on the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team. The USACAT is the military's national culinary team and offers members the opportunity to compete at the international level while sharpening and broadening their skills. Hughes, Cardona and Fort Stewart’s Sgt. Joshua Alicea will represent the U.S. military at the next Culinary Olympics in Stuttgart, Germany.

Earning the individual title of Best in Show, Fort Drum’s Sgt. Joshua Hoyt was recognized by the judges for his workmanship, attitude, passion, exemplary future leadership and epitomized culinary excellence.

Competing chefs were judged based on ACF guidelines, which emphasize they were competing against industry standards rather than each other. Those who exceeded industry standards were awarded a variety of medals, trophies, gift cards, Association of Quartermasters memberships and a scholarship from the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.

The following earned top recognition in these categories:

Culinary Team of the Year:

U.S. Coast Guard

Runner up:

Fort Campbell, Ky.

Judges Award, Best in Show:

Sgt. Joshua Hoyt, Fort Drum, N.Y.

Armed Forces Master Chef of the Year:

Staff Sgt. Hiram Carrion-Rodriguez, Marine Corps

Armed Forces Chef of the Year:

Culinary Specialist 1st Class Danielle Hughes, Coast Guard

Armed Forces Student Chef of the Year:

Pfc. Oscar Cardona, Fort Carson, Colo.

Army Enlisted Aide of the Year:

Sgt. 1st. Class Cesar Sumawang, First Army

Student Team Competition:

Fort Drum, N.Y.

International Team of the Year:

Team USA

Military Hot Food Kitchen: Fort Stewart

Nutritional Hot Food Challenge: Sgt. Edgar DeJesus and Spc. Jolisa Siliga, Fort Carson

Pastry Chef of the Year:

Gunnery Sgt. Michael Watts, Marine Corps

Winners in special categories included:

Best Exhibit in Show (Culinary Showpiece):

Gunnery Sgt. Michael Watts, Marine Corps

Judges Special Award (Cold Food Table)

Fort Carson

Independent

Sgt. 1st Class Cesar Sumauang

Competing service members are afforded the opportunity to earn ACF certifications, a recognized industry-standard credential. These credentials help the chefs provide better service to their customers in the dining facilities, as well as acceptance in the civilian sector when the service member transitions out of the military.