Fort Drum chefs turn field cooking into fine dining

The professional chefs on the Fort Drum Culinary Arts Team rehearse the Hot Food Kitchen category where they cooked a four-course meal using the components of an Army Mobile Kitchen Trailer (MKT), inside the culinary arts training center. This was the last meal the team would serve before leaving for the 47th Joint Culinary Training Exercise at Fort Lee, Virginia. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs) (Photo Credit: Michael Strasser)

By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsFebruary 27, 2023

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 27, 2023) — Before leaving for the 47th Joint Culinary Training Exercise at Fort Lee, Virginia, the Fort Drum Culinary Arts Team served one last meal to a group of 10th Mountain Division (LI) senior leaders and guests.

The Army Mobile Kitchen Trailer (MKT) is normally used by culinary specialists to feed Soldiers in a field environment. For this occasion, a group of five professional chefs took all the components from the MKT and created a cooking station inside the Fort Drum Culinary Arts Center to rehearse the Hot Food Kitchen category.

Diners enjoyed a tomato fennel soup with mussels and a Mediterranean couscous salad, before the entrée of either red wine braised short ribs or zucchini fritters with tzatziki sauce. The fine-dining menu ended with a chocolate baklava with vanilla ricotta ice cream.

Representing the professional chefs team are Sgt. David Wisbauer, Sgt. Anthony Caban, Pfc. Marlene Otero, Spc. Peyton Piver, and Spc. Irving Stratton.

“Cooking with a group of professional chefs is always fun,” said Wisbauer, team captain. “When everyone is working at a high level, it boosts your level as well. There is great synergy that happens when everyone is on the same page, the communication starts flowing really well, and everyone just clicks.”

In this competitive category, the team is provided a basic MKT cooking platform with cabinets, racks, ranges, a grill, six burners, as well as baking and roasting pans, pots and heat lamp.

“The challenge of this event is definitely the equipment,” Wisbauer said. “The burners are hard to get to the heat right on and it’s very easy to burn or undercook an item because of that. The equipment is so versatile, and figuring out how best to use it makes it difficult.”

The category requires the team to prepare 50 portions (four for the judges, one for display, and 45 to the public) of a four-course meal consisting of a soup, composed salad, one meat dish, one vegetarian dish, one starch side dish, one vegetable side dish, one sauce and a dessert.

The team has four hours to cook the food and set up a serving line, and then 90 minutes to serve, cafeteria style.

“The goal with this event is to really push the equipment so that people are left wondering how everything was made in that limited space and in the time we had to cook,” Wisbauer said. “The added component of a full service really highlights this category. Not only is it how did you make all this food, but then it’s having to complete full plated service. That makes it much more fun than anything else.”

While the professional chefs do all the cooking, student chefs on the team can serve as wait staff to facilitate meal and beverage service.

The Hot Food Kitchen is one of eight categories that are mandatory for any team vying for the Culinary Team of the Year trophy. Wisbauer will compete for Armed Forces Chef of the Year; Spc. Stephania Gateau for Student Chef of the Year; Otero for Pastry Chef of the Year; Pvt. Crystal Gordon for Student Pastry Chef of the Year; and Piver and Stratton for Nutritional Hot Food Challenge. The team of Gateau, Pfc. Chimene Gbengbeni, Pvt. Diego Rios, Gordon and Pfc. Shaun Segue will compete for Student Team of the Year.

Additionally, the entire team worked collectively to produce a cold food buffet, with a centerpiece display, that will be judged at Fort Lee.

The JCTE runs March 4-10, concluding with an awards ceremony. For a glimpse inside the JCTE, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnZYOdt5Rl0. For more information and for updates throughout the event, visit www.facebook.com/Army.Culinary.

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