“Whose cuisine reigns supreme?” was the question for three Marine food service specialists at Combined Arms Training Center Camp Fuji’s Chef of the Quarter competition, Feb. 17, 2022.
Each chef prepared a three-course meal which included an appetizer, main dish, and dessert with ingredients that could be sourced locally. From there, Marines were free to cook what they pleased. The result was nine plates of three distinct cuisines—Mexican, Filipino, and Cajun—that celebrated culture and family.
Lance Cpl. Ulysses Tapia, a native of North Hollywood, California, said his Mexican-inspired menu came from his childhood.
“Growing up, I really enjoyed these dishes that my mother would make, they were always my favorite,” he said, “I figured I would bring it out here for other people to taste what my favorite dishes were.”
Each participant agreed it was love, and a desire to share that love that drove them forward in the competition, although that pressure to perform also caused some competition-day nerves said Pfc. Logan Cody, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana.
“Because where I’m from, food’s a big deal, especially competition-wise, we’ll go crazy. I think that might have been what it is—not wanting to let my hometown down,” he explained. “We put our heart and soul into it, especially my mom, she’s like my biggest inspiration especially when it comes to cooking. She can take anything and make it into something amazing.”
His meal consisted of an Italian sausage and chorizo bread bowl, ribeye steak sandwich with bacon wrapped asparagus and home fries, and chocolate brownie with peanut butter chips and vanilla ice cream.
“I love cooking. Being from Louisiana, I want people to experience the Louisiana flavor,” said Pfc. Cody, “It’s heart and soul, that’s all it is.”
Lance Cpl. Sophia Ramos, a San Fernando, Pampanga, Philippines native, said using food to share her culture has always been a big part of her life.
“Even when I was in the States, whenever I got along with somebody I would ask them if they want to try some dishes from the Philippines,” she said, “So thinking about that inspired me to share [this meal] with Marines here at Camp Fuji.”
Her meal included lumpia, chicken adobo with garlic rice and chop suey, and halo-halo.
Lance Cpl. Ramos admitted when she first arrived at Camp Fuji as a food service specialist, she didn’t know what to expect.
“I could tell it’s really a challenging job for us, thinking not only of ourselves, but also how to feed all the Marines here at our base. In the morning, we’re here at 3 A.M. to prep and to make sure that we provide the food and the nutritional value that our Marines need,” she said. “I’m also proud to say that I’m here because our section, they’re like a family to me, they’re like my second family.”
Col. Robert Bodisch, CATC Camp Fuji commanding officer, said it was a tight competition, but in the end it was Lance Cpl. Tapia’s meal of chicken taquitos, tacos birria, churros and horchatta that won him the title of Chef of the Quarter.
“I’m a little surprised, I honestly didn’t think I would win the competition, I thought I would have been like second place,” he laughed. “[My mom] is going to be super excited, I feel like she’s probably burst out in tears,”
Lance Cpl. Tapia will go on to represent the installation at the regional Marine Corps Installations Pacific competition in March.