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Soldier chefs make final preparations for Military Culinary Arts competition

By J. Parker Roberts | 1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS | March 13, 2014

“Big Red One” chefs are making their final preparations ahead of one of the largest culinary competitions in the U.S. The 1st Infantry Division’s Culinary Arts Team will compete against Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and other military personnel from across the armed forces March 9 to 14 during the 39th annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event at Fort Lee, Va.

Twelve Soldiers from across the 1st Inf. Div. will compete in the weeklong contest of culinary champions, creating cold buffets, hot meals, desserts and more. Spc. Yuri Palenzuela, 5th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., will represent the Big Red One in the Armed Forces Chef of the Year category, while Spc. Evan Sapiel, also of 5th Sqdn, 4th Cav. Regt., 2nd ABCT, 1st Inf. Div., will represent the team in the Armed Forces Junior Chef of the Year competition.

“I had to compete to be able … to compete for that, so it feels rewarding,” said Sapiel, who didn’t start cooking until after he joined the Army two years ago. “It just happened.”

The chef said his wife, in particular, enjoys his cooking skills.

“It’s a little intimidating, but I think I have the skill for it,” Sapiel said of the competition.

He also will be working with other members of the team on a cold-food buffet.

“I like group efforts,” he said. “I love working with everybody here.”

Sapiel said the other members of the team are “awesome,” and all were doing their best in preparing for the competition.

“It’s the largest culinary competition in North America,” said Sgt. Jeffrey Matthews, Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Inf. Div., who serves as the team captain and coach. “It’s all branches coming together to compete at one installation.”

Matthews said the Fort Lee competition is a great opportunity for young Soldiers to be among top American culinary chefs.

“It’s a great opportunity to feed off them, sharpen their craft and learn a different skill set,” he said. “Something they can bring back into the dining facilities to enhance the meals for the Soldiers.”

The team coach previously competed at Fort Lee in 2009 and 2011, where he said he did well.

“I think it’s a sprint this year,” Matthews said.

Unlike previous years, where the competition lasted two weeks, this year’s competition will only be five days, with an awards presentation on the sixth day.

“Last time I competed, it was more of a marathon; It kind of drug out,” he said. “I’m kind of anxious to see how they’ll compress everything.”

Matthews said some events, like ice carving, have been cut this year.

“We are very excited,” the coach said. “I know it’s a good opportunity for Soldiers. They’re used to cooking burgers and fries in the DFAC, but this is a different style of cooking – different skill set.”

Soldiers would be demonstrating their skills in front of recruiters from the Pentagon, the White House and other major governmental agencies, he said.

“This is the next level of cooking,” Matthews said. “You go out there and win medals, and they’re like ‘OK, he’s got skills; I want to move him up to the next level.’”

Spc. Yin Jenkins, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div., will be focusing on desserts at Fort Lee, competing in both the plated and cold dessert competitions.

“It’s going to be my first time, and it’s going to be very nerve-wracking,” Jenkins said. “The judges, or whoever is there, can come up to me and start talking, asking me questions, that sort of thing. I’m afraid to forget things or get distracted.”

She said adjusting after being interrupted has been part of her training, and she plans to keep answers short and to the point.

Like Sapiel, Jenkins did not begin cooking in earnest until she joined the Army.

“I do love food, and my dad is really happy that I joined a non-combat (military occupation specialty),” she said. “Plus, it’s food service. My dad loves to cook.”

Jenkins said she likes the detail work that comes with creating desserts. “I love making little sugar bird nests or chocolate designs,” she said.

For the competition, she’ll be making a pineapple-cream dessert with berries and a vanilla bean sauce.

“I think I will do good,” Jenkins said about the competition. “There’s a first time for everything, and it’s really for the experience.”

Matthews, as one of the most experienced team members, said the 1st Inf. Div. Culinary Arts Team would be an underdog in the competition, but said the team was nevertheless, highly skilled.

“I’ve got some great talent on this team – some really good, enthusiastic young individuals,” he said. “They’re easy to teach, easy to coach, and they’re picking up on different techniques and recipes. I think they’ll do quite well down there. I think we’ll surprise a lot of people.”
Tag 1ID   Tag Culinary Arts

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