Yama Sakura 'Iron Chef' Competition Brings Together US., Japan Culinary Specialists

U.S. Army - Camp Kengun, Kumamoto, Japan

Yama Sakura Iron Chef competition brings together US., Japan Culinary Specialists By Sgt. 1st Class Corey L. Beal CAMP KENGUN, Japan -- Culinary specialists serving in the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Army demonstrated their talents as they went head-to-head in an Iron Chef battle on Camp Kengun, Japan, Dec. 5, 2016.

The friendly competition included five-person teams who were given 150 minutes to prepare an appetizer, salad, soup, main course and a dessert. The teams could choose spices and condiments, but were required to use a surprise ingredient in all courses.

The competition was held in conjunction with Yama Sakura 71, an annual command post exercise co-sponsored by U.S. Army Pacific and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. Since its inception in 1982, Yama Sakura has focused on the development and refinement of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and U.S. Army Pacific’s efforts in the areas of bilateral planning, coordination, and interoperability. A major component of Yama Sakura is providing members of the two nations a venue to exchange ideas, tactics, techniques, military experiences, and each other’s culture.

This competition embodied that notion according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Leethornya Deal, 10th Support Group (Regional), who said it was awesome working with his counterparts in building the competition. “This Iron Chef competition has been a great chance for us to actually spend time with our Japanese counterparts, learn their culture and get to know each other,” said Deal. “In the beginning, you don’t really know how to work with each other, but as time goes it gets better, the team builds, and we get a lot more familiar and comfortable working with each other.”

In addition to building ties with their Japanese counterparts, the competing U.S. Army culinary specialists also proved their abilities to quickly build a team and rise to the challenge.

“Our five-person team consists of four active duty and one reservist representing three different commands,” said Deal. “It’s important to note that this is the first time any of them have competed in any event.”

The competing Soldiers included Sergeants Aaron Finley, Larry Rudd and David Tyo of the 1-1 Air Defense Artillery (Regiment); Sgt. Almadelia Arteaga of the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion; and Spc. Nicholas Jerman of 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command.

“It was a great experience for all of us and I think we did great,” said Arteaga who performed as the team’s leader. “There is some stuff we probably need to work on, but we came together as a team and all worked together.”

When the preparation time expired, the teams presented their dishes which were judged by a 10-person panel consisting of senior ranking officials from JGSDF and U.S. Army. The votes were close, but the JGSDF culinary specialists won the competition and were presented the Yama Sakura 71 Iron Chef Award. The real reward was the experience itself, said Deal.

“Not only do we get to build a team inside the Army, but we get to also build a team with the Japanese Army,” said Deal. “Initially it was kind of difficult with the language barriers, but you really don’t need words to speak the same lingo when it comes to food.”

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