Chefs compete for culinary crown

  • Published
  • By Valerie Mullett
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
Donning their characteristic white uniforms and chef's caps, six members of the three quarterly award winning teams hit the kitchen at the Elkhorn Dining Facility Feb. 19 to go head to head for the title of Best Warrior Chef Team for 2008. Preparing recipes of their own choice that contained a common ingredient - fish - the teams had 90 minutes to whip up the dish that would win the judges over. 

"This competition is a chance for us to recognize and reward our talented culinary experts for their superior performance, while enhancing their culinary proficiency," said Master Sgt. Richard King, chef superintendent for the 341st Operations Group. 

The order in which the teams entered the kitchen was determined by a random drawing at the start of the competition. The team of Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith and Airman 1st Class Lynsey Mills from the 12th Missile Squadron got things started preparing Southern Fried Catfish with Okra and Tomatoes. 

"I called my mother to ask her what she thought I should prepare, " Sergeant Smith said. "She recommended catfish. And since both myself and Airman Mills hail from the South, we decided to bring some of our Southern culture to the competition." 

Mom didn't provide a recipe, though, just the suggestion. The culinary team did the rest.
"We put our heads together to create this recipe and testing it out on friends is how we determined the right amounts of each ingredient to use," Airman Mills said. 

Both agreed the first try at the recipe didn't go so well, however, "we nailed it the second time and left it at that," Sergeant Smith said. 

Next to get busy in the kitchen was Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Kaplan and Senior Airman David Harris, also from the 12th Missile Squadron. 

Sergeant Kaplan has more than 20 years cooking experience behind him, both in the civilian and military realms. 

"I feel comfortable going into this competition," Sergeant Kaplan said. "We work very well as a team." 

Their recipe for Sauteed Salmon with Lemon-Mustard Sauce, Jasmine Rice and Julienne Vegetables is also an original creation. 

"I have a lot of cookbooks and recipes stored in my head," Sergeant Kaplan said. "I tried to draw from that and come up with a dish the judges would enjoy." 

Asked how he thought the two would do in the competition, Airman Harris joked, "We have a one-in-three chance of taking it, and the 12th has a 66 percent chance of winning it. That much I do know." 

Hoping to get drawn to the kitchen first to get the best choice of pots and pans, Staff Sergeant Michael Fellows and his teammate Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Chapin from the 341st Operations Support Squadron, were the final team to get busy cooking. They seemed to find everything they needed to prepare another self-created recipe, Honey Chili Fettuccine with Shrimp and Almond-Crusted Cod, which they chose because "it sounded good," Sergeant Fellows said. 

"We decided to mix things we have tried before to come up with the recipe," he added.
The judges were presented samples of each dish in the order the teams were sent to the kitchen. Team members stood in front of the judge's table to answer any and all questions they might have about the food they were sampling. Once dismissed, the judges scored each dish based on five areas. Taste was worth a possible 15 points, texture, appearance/plate presentation and honoring the theme ingredient were each worth a maximum 10 points, and dress and appearance of the chefs counted for five points for a total possible score of 250. 

Judging the competition were Col. Michael Fortney, 341st Missile Wing commander and his wife, Karen; Chief Master Sgt. Michael David, 341st Mission Support Group superintendent; and Military Affairs Committee Chairman David Weissman and his wife, Doni. 

"You (the chefs) are the number one morale boosters out at the MAF (military alert facility)," Colonel Fortney said. "The difference between having a good tour and a bad tour is the quality of the chef on duty." 

This year's winner of the Best Warrior Chef for 2008 with a score of 234 points went to Sergeant Kaplan and Airman Harris. Only one point separated second and third place with scores of 222 and 221. Sergeant Fellows and Airman Chapin took second while Sergeant Smith and Airman Mills claimed third. 

(Editor's Note: There was no Warrior Chef competition in the first quarter of 2008 due to an 8-day Missile Standardization and Evaluation Team assessment which started Feb. 25, 2008.)