“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
“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
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
“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
“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.”