NH National Guard Hosts Iron Chef Competition
114th Public Affairs Detachment - Center Strafford, NH
Airmen, Marines and Soldiers alike, race against each other, the time and themselves to create a meal fit for champions. A mouthwatering aroma fills the air and almost nothing matters except the spatulas in hand and the food being cooked. During this event, Army and Air National Guard members from New Hampshire, Maine, New York and Utah, as well as members of the Marine Corps Reserve cross-trained on tactical food service equipment from each participating branch, were refreshed on culinary skills and faced off in a military “Iron Chef” themed competition. This joint food service field training exercise, from Sep. 23 to 25, was held at the NHARNG Training Site in Center Strafford, NH. “We really wanted to design an event where the cooks get a chance to get out of the kitchen and actually get proficient on their tasks and skills,” said Army Capt. Benjamin Leonard, NH state food service officer. “I think people take for granted how much work, effort and time our food service members really put into providing good food for our other soldiers.” Split into small groups, each with their own grill and access to a table covered in fruits, vegetables, spices and different types of meat, the teams were tasked with making Iron Chef-worthy meals for a panel of judges within 60 minutes. “The goal for this training event was for everyone to have fun and learn something,” said Army Sgt. Steven San Antonio, NH state food service noncommissioned officer in charge. After the competition ended and the judges deliberated, the group called ‘Team Name’ was announced the winner. Each member was awarded a wooden-cased spatula with the inscription ‘Joint Food Service FTX 2016 Iron Chef’ as trophies for their victory. Aside from the competition, service members from each branch set up tactical food service equipment, including the containerized kitchen (CK) and the mobile kitchen trailer (MKT), and shared among the other branches the fundamentals of each system. Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Lamont Dukes, Natick Research Development Technology Engineering NCOIC, helped teach the service members how each system ran and how to put them together and take apart them apart as quickly as possible. Everyone worked together diligently with the prospects of learning something they might not have before. “You’re only as good as your weakest link,” said Dukes. “If you bring everybody up to speed, then nobody’s weak and that’s how we can be strong.” Dukes remarked that it’s easy to forget about all the hard work food service members put in. They’re the first ones to get up in the morning and the last to leave at night. Food service members often go unappreciated. “It’s a brother and sisterhood,” said Dukes. While troops trained on their tactical equipment and prepared for the Iron Chef showdown, they also took part in one-on-one taste tests with the researchers who develop the Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs). Representatives with the Combat Feeding Directorate from Natick Labs conducted a focus group for new ration prototypes where service members taste-tested new MRE items that are still under development to give feedback on the products for future MREs. “I want them to take away that they are truly important and what they’re doing plays a role in the bigger picture,” said Leonard. “Hopefully with Natick Labs being here and [the service members] taste testing the new possible MRE samples, which give them the understanding, and really transcends the horizons, of the importance of food service.” “I have such an appreciation for how important food is,” said Lauren Oleksyk, team leader of the Food Engineering and Analysis Team and Combat Feeding Directorate at Natick Labs. “It’s really a key element of their performance so making sure it’s nutritious, palatable and acceptable so that they want to eat it is really the most important thing about my job.” After all, without food, where would the troops be?