FORT LEE, Va. — Spectators will see elaborately prepared dishes that could grace the pages of any nationally distributed food magazine during Fort Lee’s 2019 edition of the Joint Culinary Training Exercise March 9-14 at MacLaughlin Fitness Center.
What they’ll also witness is the passion of preparation and the emotion of military chefs vying for top category and team championship titles.
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Christopher D. Reaves, a Joint Culinary Center of Excellence instructor, said a strong sense of competitiveness is pervasive among JCTE contestants, and that translates to shear artistry on every plate.
“The participants bring the same level of intensity every year, whether it’s their first event or the continuation of many JCTE appearances,” he said. “Most teams put months of practice into this before they come, then they’re here actually presenting plates and being judged in this professional atmosphere … it’s all part of the training experience.”
Members of the community and general public who want to witness this 44th installment of the military culinary arts showcase can drop by the event site anytime between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on any of the competition days. Those unfamiliar with Fort Lee will be looking for building 4320, near C Avenue and 19th Street.
The JCTE will culminate with an awards ceremony set for March 15, 10:30 a.m., in the Lee Theater. Attendance of that event is typically restricted to competing teams, installation leaders and military organizations that supported the event.
JCTE got its start as a strictly cold foods competition in the 1970s. It evolved into an event that now features static food displays, live cooking demonstrations, visits by celebrity Food Network chefs, entertainment and much more.
This year, the marquee events – Culinary Team, Armed Forces, Student and Master Chefs of the year – will be joined by a new category, Pastry Chef of the Year. Reaves said it’s another opportunity for participants to improve their skills and strengthen the preparatory training that occurs prior to the competition.
“When (the teams) get here, it’s all execution, further development in the cooking labs and going through the (competitive) process,” he said. “It’s very tiring but also very rewarding.”
Among the most popular of the JCTE’s fare is the Military Hot Food Challenge. It is a competitive event in which teams produce meals for members of the public in a restaurant-style environment. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. each day of the event. Getting them as soon as they’re available is a good idea because seating is limited.
In addition to the head-to-head competitive events, participants will vie for spots on the Army Culinary Arts Team. Those individuals will represent the Department of Defense in such events as the Culinary Olympics in Germany.
More than 200 military culinarians from all five services as well as a few foreign countries are expected to participate in this year’s JCTE. The Quartermaster School is the proponent for the event, and the American Culinary Federation is the sanctioning body. ACF chefs serve as judges and oversee credentialing opportunities open to participants during the competition.