Iron Chef Competition Showcases Culinary Talent
55th Wing Public Affairs - Offutt Air Force Base, NE
The doors lock behind the final lunch customer leaving the Ronald L. King Dining Facility. Behind the double doors that separate the kitchen from the buffet, an amplified voice made possible by a public address system breaks the silence of the empty facility. Inside the kitchen, Airmen from the King DFAC and the Campisi Alert DFAC eagerly await the secret ingredient they are to utilize in the Inaugural Iron Chef Competition. The master of ceremonies is U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Gabriel Phillips, the production manager of the dining facility. Flanked on each side of him are two teams of 55th Force Support Squadron food specialists listening to the ground rules of the Iron Chef Competition. Wide-eyed, the teams watched as the metal lid covering the secret ingredient is lifted exposing a mountain of plantains. Without the slightest hesitation the teams quickly started to come up with a meal plan that would consists of an appetizer, entrée and dessert. The radio blasts some rock music, the giant digital clock starts its descent from 3 hours and the kitchen bustles with a frantic energy as the two teams get to work. “We wanted to showcase our Airmen's culinary talents and expertise while promoting camaraderie and teamwork” said U.S. Tech Sgt. Leslye Kinsey, a production manager with the 55th FSS. No outside special seasoning or ingredients were allowed into the competition. The food specialists were restricted to what was readily available in the kitchen in their preparation of the three course meal to be judged by a panel of flight, squadron and group leadership. “The ability to create three restaurant quality dishes without any preparation speaks volumes to the professionals we have at both the King and Campisi Dining Facilities,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Ryan Stebbins, 55th FSS commander. The competition gave the participating Airmen a chance to flex their culinary muscles, freeing them from the regimented menu cards that they use to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner at their respective dining facilities. “I did enjoy the competition very much,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Jeff Serrano, a food service specialist with the 55th FSS. “I enjoyed working with my team and plating the food and the friendly competition against the other team.” The seconds on the digital clock mercilessly reminded contestants that their time is finite and that a table of hungry judges wait, pens in hand, to dissect their dishes into categories covering palatability/taste, creativity/originality and plating/presentation. Within an hour the first wave of team dishes began to make their way to the judges table. Each team gave a brief description of their dish before returning to the kitchen to continue crafting their remaining meals. In between meal servings, judges and attending leadership would make their way into the kitchen to get a little more background into how the Airman chose their menus and watch them has they cut, fry, bake and blend their creations. Taking time in between cooking stations to grab an additional sample of their first presented dish, a validation to the cooks that the judges were enjoying their food. “The Airmen loved being able to prepare unique personal prepared dishes and the judges enjoyed eating what they presented,” said Stebbins. “It was also confirmation to me that even our most junior Airmen, if challenged, can rise and exceed any challenges we give them.” As the digital clock neared all zeros, the two teams expertly plated their final dishes for the Iron Chef Competition. Ceramic plates were decorated with edible works of art. The dishes were presented to the judges table while the Airman returned to the kitchen for clean-up and preparation for the dinner menu. The judges numerically rated the dishes on their cards to decide the winning team. The King and Campisi teams both created team names for the competition. King DFAC staff were Team Fried Rice with the Campisi camp referring to themselves as Serves You Right. In the end, Chicken Fried Rice, was awarded the Iron Chef Championship. The trophy will be displayed at the King DFAC until the next Iron Chef Competition. Despite where the Iron Chef Competition Trophy is displayed, the chance for these food service professionals to have the opportunity to use their imaginations and showcase their culinary creativity was the goal of this inaugural competition.