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Team Coast Guard Wins Gold at the 44th Annual Joint Culinary Exercise in Fort Lee, Virginia

In the winter of 2018 and progressing into the new year, the United States suffered the longest government shutdown in history, greatly affecting federal employees and those employed by the Department of Homeland Security. Of those affected, approximately 48,000 were members of the United States Coast Guard working without pay to carry out their duties for thirty-five days. Immediately following the end of the shutdown, eleven culinary specialists were called to leave their various units from across the nation to compete in one of the toughest American Culinary Federation competitions as one cohesive team representing the entire Culinary Specialist rating for the Coast Guard. Due to the shutdown, the team waited anxiously for orders to tell them that they would, in fact, be able to compete. Upon receiving orders, two Chief Culinary Specialists, Edward Fuchs and Scott Jeffries planned, organized, and accommodated the team preparing to meet many of the members for the very first time.

On March 2, 2019, members of the team arrived from their various units at Richmond International Airport and travelled to Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown, also known as TRACEN Yorktown, in Yorktown, Virginia. While travelling for most can be exhausting, especially for those travelling from Puerto Rico, Washington, and California, the members of the Coast Guard culinary competition team were eager to meet their teammates and begin their training. Beginning at 0600 the next morning, the team gathered in the TRACEN Yorktown Galley, officially meeting each other, their team manager, CSC Fuchs, and their team captain, CSC Jeffries.

2019 Coast Guard Culinary Team:

CSC Edward Fuchs, USCG TRACEN Petaluma CSC John Jeffries, DHS Culinary Team CS1 Stephanie Marjure, CGC Raymond Evans CS2 Josh Del Valle, CGC Hamilton CS2 Hillary Fulgham, CGC Osprey CS2 Jeffrey Plotz, USCG TRACEN Yorktown CS3 Elise Kaefer, USCG Station Atlantic City CS3 Poblo Aquije, CGC Richard Dixon CS3 Jesus Angel, CGC Active CS3 Juliana Torres, CGC Richard Snyder CS3 Kristy Dangerfield, Sector Northern New England

The team dove right in showcasing their skills they had been practicing at their perspective units such as butchering whole chickens, fileting Dover Sole, making cakes, and experimenting with their ideas for plating. The student team, consisting of five junior members, all of whom hold the rank of Culinary Specialist Third Class, worked diligently with the guidance of their coach, Culinary Specialist Second Class Jeffrey Plotz. The team spent many hours working to perfect their knife skills and butchering techniques while also meeting the ACF time requirements for the student skills salon.

During this portion of the training at TRACEN Yorktown, Culinary Specialist First Class Stephanie Majure was also practicing her courses for the Cold Food Table, the Hot Food Kitchen Event, and her own individual competition, Pastry Chef of the Year. This competition was unique in that it was a new category in which no one had ever competed before. CS1 Majure had practiced for many hours, oftentimes late into the night after her normal workday while underway on the Coast Guard Cutter Raymond Evans in Key West, Florida.

Alongside CS1 Majure and the student team, two members, both holding the rank of Culinary Specialist Second Class, Hillary Fulgham and Joshua Del Valle, worked on the planning and workflow for the Cold Food Table competition, utilizing their knowledge of aspic and plating techniques to help the team create a masterpiece worth discussing for years to come.

While the competition team was training, TRACEN Yorktown remained fully operational, providing three meals per day for approximately 700 Coast Guard members while sharing their equipment, ingredients, and table spaces. This portion of the competition was difficult due to the lack of individual space for both the competition team as well as the Culinary Specialists working in the TRACEN Yorktown Galley. But despite the trials to overcome, the members stationed at TRACEN Yorktown and the Food Service Officer, Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Matthew Simolon, were extremely accommodating and helped the team overcome and adapt the challenges of working within the walls of an unfamiliar galley.

Following an eleven-hour day of practice, the team was finally granted liberty so they could rest before returning again at 0630 the next day. Upon returning to the galley, the team learned about the flow of the competition and the student team began practicing the cooking portion of the student competition. The courses prepared by the student team were beyond the scope of education any of them had, but their passion for cooking, drive for perfection, and eagerness to learn, led them to create dishes they were immensely proud of. CS3 Torres commented on the passion she shared with the other members of the team when asked about her thoughts during the competition, “This was a great opportunity to meet and work with other [Culinary Specialists] with the same passion for cuisine. We had all levels of skill and knowledge. Everyone learned new tips and tricks from everyone else, which helped spark a new curiosity for learning. The leadership of the Chief Petty Officers was instrumental in keeping everyone engaged through the long hours worked. Their immense knowledge, experience and patience was refreshing to be a part of.”

After another long work day, but only two and a half days of training, the team retired to their barracks rooms to rest before returning to the galley to pack all the equipment they would need to compete with and then make the hour and a half drive to Fort Lee, Virginia to begin more extensive training. Upon their arrival to Fort Lee, the team checked into their lab and began unpacking their equipment and preparing for another run through of every portion of the competition they have entered. Four days of tireless training later, the student team was as prepared as they could be for their portion of the competition. Nervously awaiting their turn, the team met one last time with their coach, captain, and manager to talk through their emotions and last-minute questions.

When asked about the competition, CS3 Kaefer said, “This competition, although it was the most work I’ve had to do in such a short amount of time, with people I have never met before, was the most rewarding part of my career so far.” The student team competed in a grueling two-phase competition and pulled together to win their very first bronze medals, treasuring every bit of feedback from the ACF judges sparking even more enthusiasm to return the next year. When asked about this portion of the competition, CS3 Aquije said, “Overall, this experience was just what I needed to keep improving upon myself. The atmosphere, the teams, the daily quote of the day, everything made a contribution for us to be united, working towards a [similar] goal. It was a challenging but very rewarding experience, and the sense of pride you get knowing that you represented the US Coast Guard and achieved medals, simply goes through the roof. You cannot put a price on this experience.” Similarly, CS3 Angel said, “I had a great time competing and working with the team. This was my first time ever competing in a[n] event as such and it was a great flame sparker and want to get more involved in competing style competitions. I also learned a lot from the coaches and leaders of the team they have so much time and knowledge of culinary subject it was incredible.” The collective support of the student team by the senior enlisted members and the appreciation for the opportunity was apparent when CS3 Dangerfield said, “At first I was intimidated by the responsibility placed on me, but I feel that to have a group of leaders believe in me, even as a third class, instilled me with so much more confidence than I had before. Not only was I instilled with confidence, but being exposed to multiple competitions (the student team as well as the Armed Forces Chef of the Year competition) taught me a great deal about time management and provided me with a wealth of culinary knowledge beyond the basics taught in CS “A” school.”

Once the student team competed, it was time to move on to the cold food portion of the competition. The entire team spent twenty-seven hours straight creating every piece of the cold food table. Between the aspic, chocolate making, and plating, many of the competitors took this portion of competition as a learning experience and added new and exciting techniques to their various existing culinary skills. When asked about this portion of the competition, CS2 Fulgham expressed her appreciation for a place to really focus on her specialized skills when she said, “Overall awesome competition that allows [Culinary Specialists] that can’t be extravagant at their current unit due to schedule or equipment. [It allows] the team pull all [of] their tricks out of the bag or to focus on technique. Learning experience [was] phenomenal and some of the little tricks from field kitchen are something I would apply to [my] current unit, hope to apply again next year.” CSC Jeffries, CS1 Majure, CS2 Plotz, CS2 Del Valle, and CS2 Fulgham pulled together to showcase some of the best work they had put out on any platform, proven true by the earning of gold, silver, and bronze medals.

Following the cold food table, the already exhausted team prepared for another portion of the competition: nutrition. The entire team pulled together, despite their exhaustion, to support CS2 Del Valle and CS2 Plotz during the practice, preparation, and competition of their nutrition event, winning another silver medal. When asked about the competition, CS2 Del Valle expressed his extreme gratitude and appreciation of the team’s work collectively, “The talent level of individual members [was] off the charts in some cases and to be part of that kind of team is to inherit the immeasurable gift of experiencing synergy and shared vision at a high level. That work ethic has the potential to be internalized and spread to our separate units like the best kind of virus or inoculation against something less optimal.”

The final competition would be the team’s toughest competition of the week: the hot food kitchen event. In this portion of the event, the student team would provide table side service showcasing the highest quality of customer service to those who choose to dine with the Team Coast Guard while the primary team, would prep, prepare, and plate a four-course meal for fifty patrons over the course of four hours. When the clock began ticking, patrons entered the seating area of the competition and anxiously awaited their first course. The student team delivered water and iced tea to the seated patrons and delivered the first and, soon after, second courses to the table. After theses courses were cleared, the patrons were then able to choose their main course entrée consisting of a vegetarian or meat option to appeal to various dietary needs. This is something the Coast Guard is experienced in accommodating across the nation at every unit. After the third course was completed and the plates were cleared, the last course was delivered to the table. The final course wasn’t simply a sweet end to the meal, it also contained a warm café latte’ to end the meal with a final bitter note to counterbalance the sweet dessert provided.

When the cooking was finally complete, and the kitchen was cleaned to inspection ready standards, the team was then brought into the judges’ waiting area where they could await the scoring and feedback of this main event. In the beginning, the judges started out their feedback with high praise, notating their love of the multiple options and various complementary components provided with each course. The team was on the edge of their seats nervously waiting for the final decision. The judges began their sentence by saying the team did a phenomenal job and added a dramatic pause and finally pulled a gold ribbon from under the clipboard and the entire team jumped from their seats cheering. When asked about this experience, CS1 Majure said, “Seeing the CS3s excel was my favorite part of the competition. To know that most of them didn’t know each other, never worked in a restaurant, and didn’t even know what a tourne was, and then to bring home a medal after only a few days practicing in Yorktown was amazing. They are all going to go back to their perspective units better cooks that are striving to be chefs.” CS2 Plotz also expressed his view on the experience as a whole in saying, “The whole experience was incredible and worth every minute. The knowledge and skill from the team leaders is a huge part of why we did so well. The opportunity to be a part of it is incredible. Having the support from command for everything was very appreciated. As the student team mentor was a great opportunity to be a better teacher/leader and it helped me know in what aspects I need to grow to become a better leader.” It was at that point in time that every sore muscle, every hour of sleep lost, every cut, burn, missed meal, and every ounce of stress felt was worth it. A huge wave of pure unadulterated joy exploded from each member of the team as they all shook hands, hugged, and cried. It was at that moment, that every member realized that the competition was complete, and they were walking away with a gold medal after overcoming a major government shutdown, coming together with strangers to perform as a team, and getting minimal time to practice. The team realized that they had true talent and were ecstatic to find that the ACF certified judges shared their viewpoints as well.

Written by Culinary Specialist Third Class Kristy Dangerfield, Sector Northern New England, South Portland, Maine.

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