Cooks decked out in white shuffled back and forth in the bustling kitchen, chopping, sautéing and plating dishes for the Fort Hood Culinary Arts Center iron chef competition on Oct. 22.
Ten soldiers, each chosen by their brigades, and two students from the Central Texas College Fort Hood campus culinary arts program, competed for the top chef title.
“We want to give (them) a chance to take something back to their respective dining facilities and make typical Army food a little better,” said Sgt. 1st Class Zamain Brown, noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Fort Hood Culinary Arts Team and tasting judge in the competition. “We want to kick it up a notch.”
The chefs had two hours to prepare two servings of an appetizer, main entrée and dessert. The culinary arts center provided common pantry items and proteins and allowed chefs to bring in special equipment and spices. A mystery item, avocado, complicated the challenge. The competitors were asked to include the tricky fruit in each of their dishes.
“We want to constrain them but also broaden their horizons,” said floor judge Spc. Kollin Mullins of the 41st Fires Brigade. His role was to score the competitors on their work in the kitchen.
Floor scores are based on each cook’s organization, cooking skills, cooking techniques and ingredients and then combined with the tasting judges’ scores to determine the winner.
“I may even learn techniques from them,” said Master Sgt. Mack J. Julien, enlisted aid to Maj. Gen. Warren E. Phipps, First Army Division West, a tasting judge for the past three years.
Though his score was only determined by the final meals he tried, he preferred to observe the competitors in action.
Julien competed at the annual Military Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Va., in 1998 and 1999. Fort Hood yearly sends a team to the all-Army competition, now in its 38th year.
In March, the Fort Hood team won the title of best student culinary arts team at the Defense Department level.
The Fort Hood team won the bronze medal at the American Culinary Federation national convention in Las Vegas in July. They were the first military team to ever compete in the national competition.
In the kitchen
During the competition, the role of culinary arts escorts was to stop unsafe or unsanitary acts, Mullins said. They egged on the competition by asking questions about the dishes being prepared, occasionally questioning practices and last-minute decisions by each of the cooks.
The competitors remained quiet and focused throughout the allotted cooking time, diligently scooping out avocados, boiling pasta and rice and grilling meat.
When a competitor needed an ingredient or piece of equipment, escorts located them, quickly restocking tables piled high with produce and seasonings.
“They’re the cream of the crop,” Brown said of the iron chef competitors. Each one works within the dining facility of his or her unit, with varying levels of experience.
The culinary facility hopes to host the Iron Chef competition quarterly, Brown said.
When the two hours were up, one soldier came out on top — Spc. Syretha Crawford, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. Crawford topped the group with a chicken roulade entree. Her appetizer was avocado bisque with shrimp and an innovative dessert of avocado cheesecake.