McLaughlin Hall is the Army Center of Excellence, Subsistence, where military chefs from all over the world learn the skills of their trade.
Even as the 33rd U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition heats up, it still serves as a training environment for the chefs trying to earn gold, silver and bronze awards. A roomful of competitors gathered Saturday for an hour-long tutorial in preparation for the Armed Forces and Junior Chef of the Year events.
Staff Sgt. Nolan Kniss, the 2007 Senior Chef of the Year, served as chief instructor, with Staff Sgt. Steven Broome assisting. Both noncommissioned officers are seasoned competitors who tried out Wednesday for the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team. Their experience also serves to assist and educate other chefs, as the two-week competition includes a variety of classes. Hot and cold sauces, tallow and garnish are among the topics. Sgt. 1st Class Rene Marquis, USACAT captain and U.S. Army enlisted aide to the commander at U.S. Central Command, emphasized the learning aspect of the competition and reminded chefs to use each others’ expertise.
“I am here to teach, coach and mentor chefs in all branches of the Armed Forces,” said Marquis.
To that end, Marquis offered plenty of advice on devising a menu, working with a mystery basket of ingredients and organizing the work space.
“The faster you get your menu done, the faster you can get to cooking,” said Marquis. “The thing to remember is that you walk into the kitchen with 40 points and it is up to the chef to keep all 40 points.”
Competitors are judged on sanitation, organization, culinary techniques – everything from proper poaching to using the right pots and pans to prepare different food items.
“Timing and workflow between the chef and apprentice is critical,” said Marquis. “The chef must provide the apprentice with good leadership and keep them busy.”
Every minute the plate is late to the judging table is a point deducted from a chef’s score.
“If you’re going to be late, be late for a reason,” said Marquis. “I’d prefer taking that extra minute being late if it means serving a perfect plate.”
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Sparks, ACES culinary skills division chief, said there is no lack of response to the variety of classes available, and the quality of training is setting up the competitors for success.
“The turnout for the classes has been phenomenal,” said Sparks. “It seems there’s a dramatic thirst for knowledge this year. We have seven USACAT chefs here providing training, assistance and instruction; and all the teams are receptive and eager to soak up all this knowledge being shared.”
Kniss and Broome demonstrated all this and more as they wrote a menu from a list of ingredients, prepared a two-course menu and provided step-by-step instruction from start to finish.
“Stay calm and use your instincts,” Kniss advised the chefs. “It’s all about keeping your composure in the kitchen.”
Sgt. Steven Behr is representing Fort Carson, Colo., in the Armed Forces Chef of the Year event. While he had experience competing in the event last year, he said attending the class gave him some techniques he will apply in competition.
“It’s all about learning from one another,” said Behr. “For the most part, I’m familiar with what’s going on, so I spend a lot of time with my own teammates helping them prepare for their events.”