FORT LEE, Va. – At the 47th Joint Culinary Training Exercise (JCTE), U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command’s sole 92G — G-4 food service program manager, Sgt. 1st Class Jeffrey W. Vaughan, competed and won a silver medal for his culinary sculpture and a bronze medal for the Mobile Kitchen Trailer (MKT) event as team captain of the Reserve Culinary Arts Team, March 4-9, 2023.
The JCTE, American Culinary Federation (ACF), has sanctioned this competitive training event and largest military culinary competition in North America since 1973. The event improves Armed Forces readiness by promoting military culinary excellence and professionalism. More than 180 military chefs from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and three international teams from France, Germany and the United Kingdom showcased their skills in the competition. The significance of the JCTE was to promote the recruitment of culinary military occupation specialties (92-series) and inspire advanced cooking skills to the armed services.
Vaughan recalled how his teen years prepared him for both his culinary and military career, sharing “My first job was at a restaurant, and I did JROTC in high school. When it was time to figure out what job to pick, it was simple — cooking in the military. I then learned a different level of cooking at my first duty station in Fort Myer, Va. with The Old Guard. This led to cooking with the Pentagon Culinary Arts team. I then learned to cook at an even higher level which piqued my interest in competing.”
A Fort Belvoir Youth Center Chef in his civilian capacity, Vaughan enlisted in the U.S. Army in February 2001 and transferred into the U.S. Army Reserve in June 2009. “I served in the Active Component for eight years as a food service specialist, and I was good at cooking, so I decided to continue in the Army Reserve,” he said. He has served over 22 years of dedicated service to the nation to date.
The U.S. Army Reserve (USAR) team consisted of six members comprised of culinary specialists from the U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command, 364th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, 377th Theater Sustainment Command, 518th Sustainment Brigade, 412th Theater Engineer Command, and 316th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary). Though the USAR team was the smallest team — competing against teams with 8 to 12 servicemembers — their combined experiences as seasoned chefs also supported in coaching and mentoring the Army National Guard (ARNG) team in their first year. The teams won a total of nine medals across twelve categories.
Supporting Vaughan and the USAR team from the audience were Col. Kyson Johnson, chief of staff, U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command, Maj. Shannon Memminger, deputy chief of staff, G-4, and 1st Lt. Katy Voss, transportation officer, G-4, U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command,
Col. Johnson was rightfully awed by the event, stating “I could not be prouder of Sgt. 1st Class Vaughan and the Army Reserve team. To see him representing the Army Reserve Legal Command at such a prestigious competition was amazing. Vice Admiral Grady, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was present for the Mobile Kitchen Trailer competition when the USAR Team won a bronze medal. That provides some perspective on what a major accomplishment it was for Sgt. 1st Class Vaughan and the team to compete with the top chef’s from across the Armed Forces for recognition by the ACF. I’m truly in awe of Sgt. 1st Class Vaughan’s skill and representation of Legal Command.”
Memminger also praised the team and production of the event, saying “It was extremely exciting to watch. There was absolutely a sense of comradery and pride in the room. The uniforms and the displays were spectacular. I was impressed with how synced the team looked based on the fact they only had a couple of weeks to train for the competition. It was a star level attendance event.”
ACF Master Chefs served as the official judges for each competition. “Each event is on a scale of 40 points with gold being the highest. Every aspect is judged against the ACF standard, so we do not actually compete against the other chefs—we compete against ourselves not messing up,” said Vaughan. “If we achieve a medal, then we are given the ACF accreditation certificate for the perspective event.”
The MKT event challenged teams cooking a four-course meal for 50 people in a four-hour period and serving within the allotted ARMY hour and a half lunch serving time (1130-1300). Vaughan described their structure: “Each person was assigned a different course and I was the team lead/floater. I directed and assisted each person with cooking and plating their course. We went past the serving window by about 20 minutes, which took points away, but overall achieved a bronze medal.”
In the cold food display table sculpture event, Vaughan’s winning ballerina sculpture was a category D3 tallow centerpiece. As team captain, Vaughan enjoyed the challenge of structuring these sculptures from their basic foundations to finest details, describing his process as “figuring out how to set up a plate with all the components and shaping the food to look how you see it in your mind.” From a wooden base and metal rods, he built his sculpture using white tallow, a blend of purified beef fat and highly refined, food grade waxes.
Vaughan praised the talent and dedication of his teammates, sharing “I am most proud that, for the first time in over 15 years of competing, I was the NCOIC of the team and everyone that competed achieved at least two medals each. I am also proud of being able to help the new ARNG culinary team. Everyone received at least one medal each in their competitions.”
The USAR team’s performance was a community effort, as shown by the number of Legal Command staff and other friends of the team attending to cheer on our skilled and talented chefs. “It felt pretty good having Legal Command support me, as well as come to the meal that I cooked on the MKT,” said Vaughan. “The top Food Service Warrant Officer from USARC, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Charles Hunter, also came up to support the team. Working with the other branches is very helpful. We built relationships with the other chefs and helped them as much as they help us. To be able to train the next group of culinary Soldiers to be great at what they do is spectacular. Food is a motivator and to win any battle, you have to be motivated.”
The Reserve team is already coordinating trainings this year to bring in new culinarians to try out for the team and prepare for next year’s JCTE. Learn more about the Army Reserve Culinary program and continue their legacy of award-winning culinary arts at: https://www.facebook.com/Army.Culinary or https://quartermaster.army.mil/jccoe/Special_Programs_Directorate/Culinary_Arts/Culinary_Arts_main.html.