SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, IL, UNITED STATES
Story by Staff Sgt. Dalton Williams
Four Airmen from the 375th Force Support Squadron were selected as the first Air Force team in 46 years to compete at the annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise in Fort Lee, Virginia.
The largest military culinary competition in North America, the Joint Culinary Training Exercise held March 2-11, 2022, provided an opportunity to raise culinary excellence and professionalism for service members across the Department of Defense. It’s where the best of the best go to hone their skills and showcase why they are the best.
For the competition, each Airmen was tasked to prepare a complex dish from scratch in order to deliver a complete four course meal in under 60 minutes. Graded on things like technique and presentation, if any aspect of the meal was not completed in time the dish would not be evaluated.
“When I first made it, it took me well over an hour because I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Airman Nicolas Vazquez, 375th FSS food service apprentice. “I’d have to filet a whole chicken for my dish which initially took me 15 minutes, whereas during the competition, I was able to do that in three.”
Leading up to the event, Vazquez alongside Airman 1st Class James Fraser-Davies, Airman 1st Class Titus O’Neal and Airman 1st Class Julia Estrada, would practice preparing their competition meals day in and day out.
“We would make them at least like two or three times a day,” said Vazquez. “It was good because the more times you make it, the more you can start adding little different tricks to make it go by faster.”
Executing the dish eventually became second nature, with some Airmen even doing their dish in their sleep.
“The night before the competition, I was dreaming about fish,” said Airman 1st Class Titus O’Neal, 375th FSS food service apprentice.
Because of their hard work and dedication to their craft, the team ultimately won a bronze medal for their efforts. Lauded by the judges for their overcommunication and ability to operate in a stressful environment, their success has made history by opening doors for other Air Force teams to follow in their footsteps.
“They put the hours in and it showed 110 percent,” said Master Sgt. Amanda Brodeur, Headquarters Air Force senior enlisted aide to the Vice Chief of Staff, and team lead for the competition. “I was completely blown away at how in such a short time, we were able to take them from basic skills to an advanced skill level. I was so proud of the work they did, and saw how much they grew, not just as individuals, but as a team.”
This experience has not only strengthened their skills as food service apprentices, but also their bond between each other.
“It brought us closer together,” said Vazquez. “When you know the people you work with and you grow a family bond with them, you’re excited to see everyone succeed.”