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It will be a competition blissfully remembered by the Texas-based team of chefs who earned Installation of the Year Award at the 2007 U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee. It is the first in the competition’s 32-year history that Fort Bliss has won the top honors, announced March 16 at the awards ceremony.

“Our expectations were simple coming into the competition,” said Fort Bliss team manager, Chief Warrant 2 Charles Talley. “We come here to train, compete, and ultimately, win. This is a competition that enhances the Army food program, and that’s why it’s special to be here. We were just fortunate enough to accomplish the ultimate goal.”

The sounds of more than 150 chefs at work in the kitchen was nothing compared to the noise of the gold, silver and bronze medals they wore around their necks at the end of the presentations.

With the medals displayed proudly on his Class A uniform, Pfc. Robert Capazzi, Fort Bliss, also carried the award for Junior Chef of the Year.

“I wasn’t expecting to win this, so it’s a great honor,” said Capazzi, who also earned Best Exhibit in Pastry and Confection. “But winning Installation of the Year is a big achievement, because we have a great team, and it’s going to be great bringing this back to Fort Bliss for the first time.”

Team Europe finished second in Installation of the Year, surprising Pfc. Garrett Andrews, who thought the judging was tougher than the past three years he’s competed here.

“After earning a bunch of commendables (ribbons), we may have thought we were out of the running,” said Andrews, “but we were surprised. I think winning the Nutritional Challenge and Category P for Pastries (awarded to Spc. Leia Heeter) kept us in the running.”

Sgt. Antoinette Scott, Fort Stewart, Ga., was proud of her team’s third place recognition for Installation of the Year. The team challenge started before the competition, as they mustered a team of cooks together in between deployments.

“It seemed like we were almost not going to be able to come here, and it’s been about five years since we’ve last been here,” said Scott.

Scott said that every award they’ve earned is special to a team of all first-year competitors.

“We all medaled in everything, and we’re simply excited to have this opportunity before our next deployment,” said Scott. “Even though we didn’t get the gold in everything, we’re happy. This is a confident team, and a team that works well together. We want to come back next year.”

The competition, held March 5-16, challenges military cooks to continually raise the standards of excellence and professionalism. The building where they competed, McLaughlin Hall, is named in honor of Lt. Gen. John D. McLaughlin. McLaughlin’s name is synonymous with excellence in Army food service, and is credited with establishing training courses for cooks and bakers, as well as building a world class Culinary Arts Team.

Brig. Gen. Mark A. Bellini, U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School commanding general, spoke to the competitors at the ceremony, reminding them of what McLaughlin believed.

“In 1975, Gen. McLaughlin had this vision that in order to increase confidence, we should have a little bit of competition,” said Bellini. “That vision is a reality now in what you’ve demonstrated in the past two weeks. It is living proof that his vision is not only sound, but it’s been effective. Our nation is better because of that, and your contributions and what you do when you’re wearing those uniforms is important.”

The competition, hosted annually by the Army Center of Excellence, Subsistence and the QMC&S, is rated the largest culinary competition in America. This year, 17 teams competed, with more than 150 food service professionals entering 518 exhibits, according to Maj. David Allen, ACES director. There was also an unprecedented 23 Soldiers roasting, poaching, baking and creating culinary masterpieces in a quest to become a member of the U.S. Army Culinary Team.

“Keeping our show on the cutting edge of culinary techniques is what has kept us strong for 32 years,” said Allen. “The American Culinary Federation judging standards – the toughest in the nation, are the guidelines for our competition.” When they receive ACF recognition, they can truly be proud of their accomplishments and feel confident of their exceptional skills.”

– For photos and results from the culinary competition, visit www.ima.lee.army.mil/sites/pao/2007_CulinaryCompetition/index.htm.