VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Sailors assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) S-2 Food Service Division competed and won first place at the Best of the Mess competition at the Founders Inn on January 18.
Best of the Mess is hosted by the Chief Petty Officer Scholarship Fund (CPOSF), a publicly supported charity organization that generates and distributes funds to provide educational opportunities to qualified families of Chief Petty Officers. Since 1988, the fund has award more than $1.36 million to qualified candidates.
As part of an effort to raise money, the CPOSF hosted the competition with the theme, “A Night at the Oscars”, which included a silent auction as well as a cook-off between six different commands.
“I think it is important for culinary specialists to participate in these competitions so they can learn from the experience and meet other chefs from around the fleet,” said Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Tonia Rogers, from Toledo, Ohio. “I felt very proud of my CSs. They worked so hard to perfect their products and did an amazing job.”
It was a battle of the culinary specialists (CS) as Ford competed against five other teams, to include USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51), and Naval Station Norfolk and Dam Neck Annex gallies. Ford’s team consisted of Culinary Specialist 1st Class Sylvester Jones, Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Isaac Cobbs and Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Zhujin Miao.
Each team was given the same five ingredients to be the star of each dish they created. The ingredients were chicken breast or thigh, grits, beets, granny smith apples and lemongrass.
“Initially the team and myself sat down to create a menu,” said Culinary Specialist 1st Class Sylvester Jones, from Mulberry, Florida, Ford’s team captain for this event two years in a row. “Cobbs suggested shrimp and grits and I came up with the other two dishes. After Cobbs said he would do the appetizer, I appointed the dessert to Miao and I took the most challenging portion, which as the main entrée.”
Ford’s menu consisted of citrus-infused deconstructed shrimp and grits as the appetizer, spicy lemongrass chicken thigh on a bed of cilantro lime rice and beet de gallo paired with a delicious lemongrass sauce as the main entrée, and a succulent apple bread pudding accompanied with a mouth-watering homemade caramel sauce.
Once the team settled on the menu, Jones put his guys to practice.
“We started finding ideas online and sought advice from experienced culinary specialists and my chain of command,” said Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Zhujin Miao, from Zhangjiakou, China. “I practiced my dish in the galley every day and continued to seek advice to improve the recipe, flavor and presentation until it was perfect and everybody liked it. This is my second year competing. Last year we didn’t win anything, so our team wanted to prove ourselves by doing more research and working harder.”
When the day of the competition arrived, each team was put to the test in creating their dishes.
“We were given one hour and thirty minutes to prepare the six dishes — five for the judges and one display plate,” said Jones. “At the time of presenting to the judges, we had to have the appetizer, main entrée and dessert for all five judges prepared with enough time left to make the display plate. This is the part where presentation is everything because, after all, we do eat with our eyes.”
Food tasting began just before 7 p.m. and a couple hours later the winners were announced, and Ford’s hard work and determination paid off as they were revealed as number one for People’s Choice and given first place overall for Best of the Mess.
“I was absolutely excited,” said Miao. “I felt all the emotions of being happy, excited and wanting to cry all together in one feeling. There was nothing better than that moment. All of our hard work paid off and it’s going to remain a very important memory in my life.”
Ford went home with a “traveling trophy” that they hope to bring home again next year and bragging rights as winners for People’s Choice and overall Best of the Mess.
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