Air Force Staff Sgt. Ghil Medina, the first Airman to win Armed Forces Junior Chef of the Year, cooks for the judges at the American Culinary Foundation National Student Chef of the Year competition in Dallas this week. (Photo by Kimberly K. Fritz)

DALLAS - Air Force Staff Sgt. Ghil Medina, the first Airman to win Armed Forces Junior Chef of the Year during the 36th annual Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, was in the spotlight once again this week as he vied for the title of American Culinary Foundation National Student Chef of the Year.

Medina, a services journeyman at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, arrived in Dallas Sunday for the ACF national competition and convention, a yearly meeting where hundreds of culinary experts from around the country gather for professional development and competition. The Airman earned his spot at the event after winning a late-April ACF Western Regional Competition in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Russell Campbell, Advanced Food Service Training Division chief at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, said Medina is the first military chef to take his local win to the regional and national levels.

"He's done an incredible job, and we are all proud of his accomplishments," Campbell said. "Not only has he come further than any other Fort Lee competitor, but he has also given us new experiences and we've all learned a great deal from these events."

In preparation for this week's competition, Medina spent weeks in the kitchens at the JCCoE honing his skills, perfecting his methods and working to eliminate any obstacles to claiming the national title. Arriving in Dallas, the 23-year-old chef quickly discovered the tremendous pool of talent gathered at the ACF National Convention. The assembly includes executive chefs from a variety of big-name hotels and resorts, chief instructors from national culinary schools and a lot of young talent from high schools, colleges and universities.

"It's where the best and the brightest battle it out for the opportunity to add an ACF title to their list of accomplishments," said Leah Craig, ACF media relations.

The category in which Medina will compete, she continued, was established to recognize "the future of the industry" - culinary students who are clearly destined to become the accomplished chefs of tomorrow. Other competitors in the Student Chef of the Year category include Aaron Guajardo III, a college student from Jolliet, Ill.; Caitlin Sive, also a culinary student from Schenectady, N.Y.; and Keith Schwock, a line cook from a country club in Atlanta.

Despite the results of this week's competition, which were announced at a grand gala Tuesday evening, Medina said he had already set his next goals and has begun the work necessary to achieve them. Attending one week of classes at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., as part of his win at Fort Lee and continuing his work to bring an all-Air Force culinary arts team to the 37th Annual Culinary Arts Competition in 2012 are at the top of his priority list.

His future endeavors will surely be enhanced by the experiences of the past few days. The ACF National Convention also included opportunities to attend classes, view demonstrations by renowned chefs (famous Food Network Chef Alton Brown was among the guest presenters on Sunday) and earn continuing education credits.

"Medina is eating this stuff up ... he's motivated and passionate about his craft," Campbell said. "I look forward to watching him continue to grow."

Next week, the Traveller will offer a more in-depth feature about Medina and the military's role in the American Culinary Federation.