The Vision: Challenge Encourages Culinarians to be Creative While Concocting Cuisine

U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee Public Affairs - Fort Lee, VA

It’s the category that emphasizes the art of food preparation … performing precise knife cuts to create perfectly aligned and proportioned hors d’oeuvres and using gelatin, cocoa powder and other edible construction materials to craft colorful and imaginative sculptures. The buffet table display challenge is one of several being tackled by teams entered in the 41st annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event. While it doesn’t have the sizzle of a live cooking demonstration or the prestige of a chef-of-the-year showdown, it always draws “oohs and aahs” from appreciative spectators at the Post Field House where finished products have been on display all week. “When you think about it, the category is an ideal way to showcase a military chef’s talents,” said Pentagon competitor, Sgt. 1st Class Andre Ward, a longtime veteran of the culinary meet. “All of the focus is on planning, preparation, patience and attention to detail – essential elements in the food industry.” The 10th Mountain Division culinary team received four bronze and two silver medals for its Viking decorative table display. Team member, Sgt. William Hart, Fort Drum, N.Y., talked about the pre planning phases for the table concept. “We went with Vikings as our theme,” said Hart. We got in our minds what flavors they had access to, what colors they have, and food you would find in that region. You wouldn’t want to think Caribbean fish … but elk, bison, deer, rabbit and northern European seafood.” Fort Drum’s large chocolate centerpiece – a bust of a Viking holding a sword – sat in the middle of the table. “We came up with the frame that can hold the weight of the chocolate,” said Hart. “We used a female manikin for the base. Utilizing the chocolate tallow, we built onto the frame. The tallow consists of rendered animal fat, beeswax and we used cocoa. Creating the centerpiece took 25-30 hours of hard work.” Here’s how the judging works: Each of the 18 teams entered had to present four different kinds of finger foods, one cold festive buffet platter, two items from a regional three-course meal (foods you would find in the demographic region), one five-course menu gastronomique for one person, petit fours (miniature desserts), and a decorative centerpiece. “Each table must have a five course menu if you are competing for Installation of the Year,” said Chief Culinary Specialist Curtis Addleman, advanced culinary enlisted instructor for the Navy at the Joint Culinary Training Center here. “One of the categories must be a gastronomique menu, which means everything has to be balanced; appropriate amount of protein to vegetables and starch ratio along with an appetizer, soup, fish course and desert.” The Navy’s culinary team created a nautical theme with a sculpture of the top portion of The Lone Sailor. The original bronze statue was sculpted in 1987 as a tribute to all the personnel of the sea services. Navy team Culinary Specialist 1st Class Lucille Conley, Naval Base San Diego galley, first time competitor, explained how much time it took to prepare the tables for the event. “We started the day before with mise en place (French term for put in place) our vegetables, getting our equipment together, anything that needed cuts, table clothes and skirting,” said Conley. “Everything you see on the table took time.” Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Jailyn Henderson, USS George H.W. Bush, also spoke about what it took to put the table display together. “A lot of long nights getting ready for the display competition. We practiced two-or-three times prior, staying up 24 hours, and trying to get everything right. We worked on perfecting the cuts.” “Everything you see on the table is real food,” said Henderson. “In order to preserve it, we must dip it in gelatin, two to three times, so it has a nice clear coat and helps preserve the food for display.” This is the first time the Marine Corps has been represented in the table set-up category. The table showed its Semper Fi spirit with a Marine Corps flag, banner, and a corps emblem on the menus. “Our main goal was to show we’re serious competitors,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jerwon Stephens, a food service instructor at the JCTC. “This was a great opportunity,” he added, “and we took a lot of things away from doing the tables. Now that we have a concept and the helpful tips from the judges, we will do some tweaking, and come back next year and win medals.”

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