FORT CARSON, CO, UNITED STATES
Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Evans
FORT CARSON, Colo. – For the last two months, a team of food service specialists from throughout the 4th Infantry Division have conducted training to preparation for the annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise (JCTE) taking place in March at Fort Lee, Virginia. Part of the training for the five-hour competition consisted of preparing a three course meal for several guests at the Fort Carson Culinary Academy on Jan. 24, 2019 that is reflective of what will field portion of the cooking competition.
“The JCTE was started by the Army on Fort Lee, and it has grown into the largest cooking competition in the United States,” Sgt. 1st Class David M. Allen, the culinary team manager and platoon sergeant for 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division said. “We compete against teams from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and military culinary teams from other countries too.”
The experience is highly rewarding every year for those who are involved, as the participants get to network with and meet experienced chefs and learn new cooking techniques. The competition this year will run from March 6-16 with the team cooking for up to 50 people.
“It’s important to bring up those new guys and show them that there is more than just the operations at the dining facility,” Allen explained.
There is a lot of training that takes place both during normal duty hours and weekends, which takes place on and off post. It includes written tests as well as homework in order to ensure success when the team eventually competes. It has especially been a learning experience for junior Soldiers.
“We have one young guy, for example, who didn’t have much experience with international flavors, so we did a class on international flavors with roasted chicken, such as Korean, Thai, Indian and a basic roasted chicken,” Allen said.
Those on the team who have competed before have learned a tremendous amount from their experiences.
“A big thing we learned at last year’s competition was communication, Sgt. Bruce Serafica, who is assigned to 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division said. “If you don’t communicate with one of your teammates during a field feeding competition, it’s going to be chaos within the small area and the product will not be of the quality that you’re trying to provide.”
Even certain members of the student team have won accolades in the past for their culinary prowess. Pfc. Joseph A. Qualantone, another culinary specialist assigned with 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division for example, won the III Corps Chef of the Year in October 2018.
“There was a weeklong competition of cooking, there was a PT test, a range, and a board,” Qualantone said. “It was about a weeklong where I met the culinary team out there who were already training for the competition at Fort Lee, so we’ve been training hard to match up with them.”
Both the senior culinary NCOs and their students are also looking forward to the educational benefits that come with being involved in the competition.
“You always want to start out with baby steps, just getting everyone familiar with their part,” Staff Sgt. Melvin L. Jennings, a culinary specialist assigned to F Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division and the team captain in charge of logistics said. “Once you get everyone proficient with their role, the only thing is to bring that puzzle together and then it all gels together from there.”
For many of the NCOs, it will be a chance to meet up with contestants and other personnel they have trained with before.
The experience is awesome because you get to meet a lot of the good chefs with 30-40 years of experience, and you learn a lot from them, Serafica stated.
Once the competition is over, the team is looking forward to taking what they have learned and utilizing it when they return back to Fort Carson.
“Our main goal is to take all this training and bring what we learned back to the dining facilities, and give the Soldiers the best food we can give them,” Allen said.
The culinary team was also pleased with the large turnout for the training event.
“The troops love it when they see their command come out to give them support,” Allen stated. “Cooks feel very under-appreciated, so in doing this kind of training with this kind of atmosphere, it’s a great thing that they get to know that people do care.”