Chef Andre Ward and the Cake Off Winners
By: Spc. Elorina Santos, 3SB PAO
Sfc. Alechia Riley, a Dining Facility Manager and Spc. Zachariel Monge, a food service specialist both with 287th Quarter Master Field Company were the cake off winners of the Enforcer Universities competition on September 4, 2020. They were awarded a two day incentive pastry training with Chef Andre Ward, a United States Army retired Soldier, an American Culinary Federation Certified Executive Chef, and Certified Working Pastry Chef.
“This is different from what I normally do because I am working with just two other people versus working with a whole team. From this incentive I learned how to make whipped topping from scratch, make cake decorations out of chocolate that we melted and let set, make a cake flat, and to measure precisely for the reason that baking is literally science and math – if you get one thing wrong the pastry can taste off. I feel like it takes a lot of skills and dedication to do what you did in the Army outside of the military,” says Spc. Monge.
“We (SFC Laron Smith and I) wanted to provide the culinarians an incentive on another level. The unit cake off competition was the gateway to make this opportunity come to light. It was befitting to ask Chef Ward for his mentorship. I love to see every aspect of food service display talent. I knew this could happen with a genuine and humble effort and so we asked The Pastry Warden,” says Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bernadette Smith, a food advisor warrant officer with 287th QM Field Feeding Company.
Chef Ward is a native from Savannah, GA that grew up in a household where cooking was displayed as a joy and passion by his great-grandmother and grandmother. He has been in the food-service industry for 25 years. Throughout his career he had the pleasure of serving four Secretary of Defenses at Defense Pentagon and provided food-service managerial support for President Barack Obama. His last duty station was to teach and mentor Joint Military Chefs in The Advanced Culinary Skills Training Course held at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence Quartermaster Corps in Fort Lee, VA.
“Chief Warrant Officer 2 Smith invited me to do this as an incentive for the winners of the cake off competition and I thought it would be a great idea because I can actually pull them away from the dining facility and show them some things to enhance their skills and to give back to those Soldiers as I know that they are yearning for learning. These Soldiers want to enhance their pastry skills as well as their culinary skills overall. As a Soldier that was in the military for 25 years, I feel it is my duty and my obligation to give back to those who are especially in my career field. Retiring as a Soldier does not stop from just taking everything I’ve learned with me, I need to give back to them and show them what I have learned and help them come up in the ranks as well as help them improve their dining facilities and operational environment. I hope the Soldiers take away that there is more to just putting big pans of food on line. It’s a passion and at the end of the day you have to love what you do. I think every senior noncommissioned officer or every senior in overall in the uniform service (not just the army) should give back to the ones that are coming after them – I think it’s important, I think its key,” says Chef Ward.
After retirement, Chef Ward graduated with honors from the French Pastry School of Chicago. His training made him proficient in the art of French pastry which includes but not limited to breakfast pastries, gluten free pastries, petits fours, special cakes, decorated cakes, ice creams, sorbets, tarts, pies, chocolate and sugar candy making as well as sugar showpieces and chocolate showpieces. Chef Ward competed in numerous culinary competitions such as “The Culinary World Cup” and “The IKA Culinary Olympics” for the United States Army Culinary Arts Team. He also competed for many Joint Culinary Training Exercise competitions held at Fort Lee. His most recent competitions were appearances on The Food Network’s “Bakers vs Fakers,” winner of The Girl Scout Cookie Championship and winner of Netflix’s “Sugar Rush” season 3. “Honestly If I have not competed in the military I probably would not be on food network or Netflix,” says Chef Ward.
“To be able to work side by side with a pastry chef was an awesome experience. I never had an opportunity like this before. This experience was a true enhancement of the skills I already know. I learned how to put them to better use for an outcome to better products. I learned how to use time management at a more rapid pace when it comes to multitasking and baking different items at once and different types of culinary methods when it comes to working with pastries. It is outstanding to see someone retire from the army and continue growth in the skill and profession we come from. This experience lets me further know not to stop what I am presently doing with my talents and to keep pushing for greatness,” says Sfc. Alechia Riley, a Dining Facility Manager at Hunter Army Airfield.
“This training is unique because it’s not every day a 92G get to train alongside a famous chef. It is very rewarding for our culinarians to see a retired senior NCO with his resume give back. That is how we tied together this training – “Training your replacements”. Sfc. Riley trained Spc. Monge for the “911 Decorated” theme cake competition and in the end they were victorious over three other teams. The Command team was very supportive of the idea to bring in a Chef.
In my career I have always wanted to highlight other chefs and 92Gs because it’s these hard working individuals who make the mission happen behind the serving line. Having built relationships in the industry does help make these opportunities possible. This type of exposure will benefit both garrison and field operations. Our culinarians must get command support to invite outside chefs to the installation. In our unit we only have one Soldier that is a certified chef, we need more to become certified. These touching points will benefit the customers, culinarians and command teams. I feel that the Soldiers of 287th have received great exposure and understanding of their craft. There are so many opportunities beyond the mobile kitchen trainer (MKT) or dining facility (DFAC) serving line. We owe each culinarian outstanding training daily and tools for their post career endeavors. Chef Ward’s successes is an example of what hard work and determination can produce even after you retire. It would be beneficial to get this training year round. This type of training leads to success at the joint culinary arts training center competition at Fort Lee. Exposure on that platform leads to civilian and military connections that are beneficial. What we do today will impact tomorrow. Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM),” says CW2 Smith.
Chef Ward is the owner and founder of The Pastry Ward’en by Chef Andre Ward. The Pastry Ward’en is all about sharing his dessert recipes and helping home cook absorb how to cook like a professional pastry chef. It provides valuable information and connections with professional chef’s as well.