Sgt. Maj. Gregory Welch congratulates Staff Sgt. Hanna Abrams after winning the III Corps will hold a chef of the year ceremony at Fort Hood’s Black Jack dining facility Wednesday October 25, 2017.

Eric J. Shelton | Herald

Contestants cooked and judges tasted three courses prepared by 12 soldiers from all over the U.S. — from ingredients found in a mystery basket.

The 12 soldiers competed for the III Corps Chef of the Year competition last week, ending with the crowning of two first place trophies to soldiers stationed at Fort Hood.

The annual III Corps Chef of the Year competition takes place over three days and includes a physical fitness test, weapons qualification, hot food challenge, and a formal oral board, testing the knowledge of the basic soldier as well as their culinary knowledge.

The hot food challenge begins when the contestants are presented with a mystery basket of ingredients. The clock starts and gives them three hours to prepare a three-course meal. This year’s basket contained a rack of lamb, scallops and lobster tail.

One of the judges, Staff Sgt. Sean White from 61st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 1st Medical Brigade, said, “All the contestants did really well with their basket items. For some of them, it was their first time cooking lobster and scallops, and those that had experience, but the flavors were really good from all across the board.”

Chief culinary manager Sgt. Maj. Gregory Welch said, “They represent the best in III Corps, out of the 4,000 plus 92-Golf (chefs) in the corps, we had 12 respected in their division or separate brigade to represent their installation to come to Fort Hood to compete for the III Corps Chef of the Year.”

Welch commended each of the 12 soldiers for their efforts and said they were the “Cream of the crop, and are all winners.”

The competition is separated into two categories — private first class through specialist and noncommissioned officers.

Pfc. Megan Boissoneault was announced as runner up in the private first class through specialist category. Boissoneault is from Fort Carson, Indiana. The runner up in the NCO category was Spc. (promotable) Angelica Gonzalez, also from Fort Carson.

The first place winner in the NCO category was 26-year-old Sgt. 1st Class Hanna Abrams, 91st Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. Abrams is stationed at Fort Hood, but is originally from the Philippines. She said she made a mushroom rice risotto, enhanced French lamb, vegetable and lobster spring roll and a blackberry cheesecake.

Abrams has been in the military for nine years and has done two tours in Afghanistan. She plans to retire from the Army.

At home, she says she does the majority of the cooking for her husband, who is also in the military, and two children.

“I cook mostly Filipino dishes,” she said.

The winner from the private first class through specialist category was Spc. Raphael Samson, 23, also from 91st Engineer Batalion and also originally from the Philippines. He prepared lamb with mushrooms and red wine, a mushroom risotto, scallops and lobster with a white sauce and a chocolate soufflé.

“I learned how to make the soufflé the day before the competition,” Samson said.

Samson has been in the Army since 2015, has served a rotation in Korea, but has no combat deployments.

Samson said he originally wanted to join the Army to help pay for college, but now he has found his passion for cooking.

“I am not a recipe kind of guy,” Samson said, adding he prefers to just freestyle with his cooking.

Abrams and Samson said this was the first time they participated in the III Corps Chef of the Year competition, although both have participated in other competitions.

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