With knives sharpened and tables set, the 35th Culinary Arts Competition kicked off in “Kitchen Stadium” at the Fort Lee, Va., Field House. This annual, high-paced event runs through March 12.
Considered the Super Bowl for the food specialists, it is the largest culinary competition in the U.S., and brings together more than 200 competitors from 26 military installations, who will be “bringing it to the table” to be named the best of the best of military food specialists.
From ice sculptures, seafood, wild game, pastries, and amazing centerpieces made from chocolate, the competition has it all. There will be cold food displays, ice carving, and live cooking demonstrations daily, including demonstrations by the Original “Grill Sergeant,” Army Sgt. 1st Class Brad Turner Jr., and TV personality, restaurateur, and home décor authority, B. Smith.
Sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, the competition is open to military members from of all services, Department of Defense Civilians, and United States Army Reserve and National Guard personnel. It has taken place every year since 1973, with the exception of 1991 during Desert Storm and 2003 during the Iraq war kickoff, according to information from the U.S. Quartermaster School, Fort Lee.
“This year’s event is special because all of the military services, including the Coast Guard, are competing. We are a joint activity and need all branches of the military to fight the war today,” said Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Sparks, Joint Culinary Center of Excellence division chief, responsible for organizing and coordinating the competition. “This is a great opportunity where everyone can come together and showcase their military food service skills and exchange ideas. It also gives the competitors a chance to learn advanced culinary skills that can’t be gotten anywhere else.”
Besides recognizing the skills and talents of the competitors, it also serves as a unique opportunity for food service personnel to interact with world-class culinary professionals. Judges and instructors from England, Sweden, and other countries are brought in to provide valuable feedback to the participants. Many of the judges belong to the American Culinary Federation and World Association of Chefs societies.
“It’s an honor to be on the team. Knowing that I was chosen to represent the entire base is a humbling experience,” said Army Sgt. Scott D. Criddle, a first time team member and soldier with the 583rd Forward Support Company, Fort Bragg, N.C. “Cooking is my passion–I have been cooking since I was six years old. Most of my family has been associated with the military; so being in the food service field with the Army is a natural fit.
According to Criddle, military cooks don’t always get the recognition they deserve. “This competition will let their peers see that there is a lot more effort and responsibility to being a food specialist-more than what they see at a dining facility at a stateside or field location or in the hills and mountains in Afghanistan or Iraq.”
The general public is being allowed to experience the high quality meals that will be prepared by the competitors. As part of the competition, two teams will square off daily, in field kitchens. They will be responsible for preparing and plating 75 five-star meals which will be available to ticket holders for $4.25.
Featuring more than 500 judged events, participants will fight for trophies and special awards in the following categories: Best Team Exhibit; Best Exhibit; Special Judges Award, Most Artistic Piece; Best Overall Table Exhibit in the Competition; Best Entry, Contemporary; Nutritional Hot Food Challenge Team of the Year; Best Centerpiece in Ice; Field Cooking Team Competition; Junior Chef of the Year; Culinary Knowledge Bowl Champions; Chef of the Year; National Culinary Champion of the United States Military; National Pastry Champion of the United states Military; and Installation of the Year.
Medals received from federation entries can be used towards certification as a chef.
Among the teams competing this year are teams from Fort Carson, Colo., which took the top honor last year, followed by Team Korea and Fort Bragg, N.C.
Winner will be announced at the awards ceremony on the 12th of March.