Thursday, February 26, 2015

JBER top chefs to compete at national event

by Air Force Staff Sgt. Wes Wright
JBER Public Affairs

2/26/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- "This pork is so raw, it's still singing Hakuna Matata!"

Thankfully, the type of colorful criticism on a popular TV cooking show was absent following a meal prepared by a team of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's top chefs Feb. 20. High praise took its place.

The 10-person team of Soldiers and Airmen, dubbed "Team Alaska," served up a three-course meal to JBER leadership as part of a training event designed to prepare the team for the stiff competition they'll be facing in the 40th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event at Fort Lee, VA. March 4-13.

The first item served was a zucchini and shrimp wrap with roasted red pepper, feta and cream cheese filling, topped with crisp bacon, julienne carrots and roasted red pepper sauce. The main course offered to the diners' pallets was Beef Wellington in a green peppercorn sauce, along with a side of herbed potatoes, and a warm wilted green salad, topped with toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Beef Wellington is a steak fillet coated with pate and duxelles, wrapped in a puff pastry and baked.

"The competition we're going to is like the Super Bowl of culinary arts for the military," said Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Warman, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 725th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, Team Alaska manager. "It's a really big deal. We're excited to go down there."

"It's an event like this that you can really only enjoy at a joint base," Air Force Col. Brian Bruckbauer, 673d Air Base Wing commander. "We've got Soldiers and Airmen. It's because of this joint base construct that we're able to do things like this together and learn from one another. From a services standpoint, most services Airmen, never get exposure to things like this. This is one of the many things I think is great about JBER."

The competition is held at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence. The center is the premier joint food service training institution and central focal point for the armed services in both entry-level and advanced culinary training (Corporate Headquarters and Quartermaster School Advisor for the Army Worldwide Food Service Program).

The purpose of the event is to promote growth in the culinary profession with special attention to the tenets of modern culinary developability, practicality, nutrition, workmanship, economy, presentation, creativity, and concept.

According to JCCoE officials, the competition format mirrors the structure of the World Culinary Olympics held every four years in Erfurt, Germany. This annual event includes ice sculptures, pastries, seafood, wild game and amazing centerpieces made of edible items. From aiolis to zabaglione, it can all be seen during the annual MCACTE.

As the event is classified as a competitive training event, Team Alaska is composed of seven rookies and three veterans. There is a five-person "back of the house" team and a five-person "front of the house" team.

"Our team is going to compete in many challenges," Warman said. "So, we wanted to create a similar environment to what they'll face. The one presented today was a field kitchen event. They had to prepare a gourmet, three-course meal on a mobile kitchen trailer. The field kitchen is designed to cook field rations. So, it really challenges our guys to think outside-the-box."

A field kitchen is a small, rudimentary kitchen on a trailer, designed to be highly mobile and cook field rations for servicemembers in deployed or austere locations.

"The biggest challenge with a field kitchen is control of temperature," said Army Sergeant Abraham Gonzales, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 725th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, Team Alaska primary instructor.  "Another significant challenge is space. Those kitchens aren't very big."

For their practice run in front of JBER leadership, the team had three hours and 45 minutes to create three courses: starter, entrée and dessert. According to one arctic warrior in attendance, the meal rivaled 5-star dining.

"The fact they made this out of a field kitchen, and it's similar to 5-star dining - awesome!" said Bruckbauer. "The food was great and I think they'll compete well at their competition."

Bruckbauer's comments came moments after sampling a dessert of banana flambé served with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce, and a cherry spun sugar garnish.

This is the second time Team Alaska will be competing in the event. The roster has changed, but the goal remains the same: come home with some hardware. In their first showing last year, the team claimed three silver and three bronze medals.

JBER's top chefs know they have their work cut out for them but feel they are up for the challenge. Each member had to compete against their peers just to be selected to the team.

"I'm nervous but excited for the experience," said Air Force Airman 1st Class Brittany Lowell, 673d Force Support Squadron services apprentice and Team Alaska first cook. "Not a lot of people get to do this. I'm competing for student chef of the year and only one person from each team gets to do that. It's a lot of pressure, but I'm ready."

For a seasoned veteran like Gonzales, imparting years of acquired skill and knowledge to his junior chefs makes the job worthwhile.

"The most rewarding part is seeing the progression and development of all the students since the team came together on Jan. 9," Gonzales said. "They're already good at what they do and they're only getting better. There's a lot riding on this team."

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