International teams and U.S. military personnel from all branches of service will produce elaborate table displays and meticulously crafted hors d’oeuvres, main entrees and desserts during the 45th Joint Culinary Training Exercise set for March 7-12 at MacLaughlin Fitness Center here.
The annual Joint Culinary Center of Excellence-hosted event provides a unique platform for showcasing and promoting the professional development of military chefs. The primary goal is learning and mentoring – and to encourage the best performance out of participants, the organizers provide incentives and recognition in the form of certificates, medals, trophies and continuing education that may be used toward credentialing.
This year’s training event has attracted roughly 175 U.S. military personnel from installations and activities around the world as well as allied forces teams from France, Germany and Great Britain. Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Koritzer – a key figure among the dozens of NCOs and officers at the Culinary Center who have been working JCTE prep since October – said he expects the 2020 exercise to be just as dazzling as it has been for many years.
“We intend to have a great competition as always,” said the NCO in charge of JCCoE’s Advanced Culinary Training Division. “We are looking forward to seeing competitors in the kitchens and on the display floor eager and ready to rock and roll to show judges and the public what they can do as culinarians.”
This year’s agenda includes familiar spotlight events that add to JCTE’s electric atmosphere. Key military leaders will compete in a cook-off challenge, and Food Network icon Chef Robert Irvine is scheduled to visit sometime during the week, said Koritzer. There will be live cooking shows, displays and other entertainment as well.
The JCTE, sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, began in 1973 under another title. It initially featured only cold foods and was staged at the Lee Club. Several name changes and venues later, it has become the largest military culinary event in North America. Celebrities and four-star generals have been among the attendees and winning participants have been prominently featured in the national media.
Kicking off with the marquee event – the Armed Forces Chef of the Year challenge – JCTE also features competitive categories for student chef, team of year, hot food kitchen, nutritional hot food cooking, pastry and many others. Most of the top medal winners are selected for the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team, which competes in civilian ACF events across the nation and, every few years or so, in Europe’s Culinary Olympics, which are happening this month in Stuttgart, Germany, with the USACAT among its competitors.
Of the JCTE events open to the public, none are more popular than the Hot Food Kitchen Challenge in which teams prepare gourmet meals in areas mimicking military food service facilities. Those creations are served buffet-style to visitors. Tickets are sold daily at minimal cost on a first-come, first-served basis prior to the lunchtime meal.
While the glamour of JCTE certainly resides with the white-apron and toque-wearing chefs preparing perfect dishes worthy of any food and wine magazine, there’s a key aspect of the event that deserves at least some of the applause, which is the painstaking work required to prepare teams and facilities for the momentous occasion. Every year, personnel from the garrison, the military schoolhouses and others work as a team to ensure everything is in place so the event runs like clockwork. Transportation, support personnel, team coordination, ordering and stocking ingredients specified by competing teams, and so much more are part of the pre-coordination requirements.
The process of converting MacLaughlin into the JCTE arena alone is daunting, noted Susan Oden, the JCCoE training specialist tagged with the heading the logistical effort.
“You’re looking at two weeks of work and about 50 personnel laying down flooring and setting up food preparation equipment and display areas – everything that is needed to convert that facility into a kitchen, dining area, showroom and everything else,” she said.
In performing the work to set up MacLaughlin, Oden said the biggest challenge is making sure it is done properly.
“It’s getting things installed correctly and safely so no one gets hurt,” she said. “We want everything to work like it should because that’s what these visiting teams expect of us; to get it right.”