VILSECK, Germany – U.S. Army Soldiers from the 2d Cavalry Regiment represented the U.S. Army Europe for the worldwide 44th Annual Joint Culinary Training Competition at the MacLaughlin Fitness Center in Fort Lee, Va., March 9-14, 2019.
Nine of 11 culinary specialists were from 2CR including Spc. Tre Alvarez, Spc. Nathalie Joseph, Spc. Darlyn de la Cruz, Spc. Marty Taylor, Spc. Joshua de la Rosa, Spc. Caril Konkler, Sgt. Guadalupe Woods, Sgt. Zeporah Frye-Butler and Sgt. Eugene Coleman.
Each received a bronze medal for the student team category in the competition. Alvarez, the team captain, received the silver medal for Student Chef of the Year.
The road to winning was not an easy one.
“It was a week of tryouts with different types of culinary specialists from Grafenwoehr, Vilseck and Hohenfiels,” said de la Cruz. “They chose the best ones out of everyone who tried out.”
“I had no idea what I was getting [myself] into,” said Joseph, who joined the competition later than the rest of her team members. “It was a lot of late nights and early mornings. With the practice, that helped us a lot at the competition.”
The student team also took to social media platforms like YouTube and to British chef, restaurateur and food critic, Gordon Ramsay, to prepare themselves for the competition. It would be their traditional training that prepared them the most.
“A lot of stuff that the students needed to know how to do is stuff that you will not find on YouTube,” said Alvarez. “A lot of our dishes were Escoffier, so it’s a lot of old school stuff.”
While not an easy journey, the team received guidance through Staff Sgt. Matthew Litterell, 3rd Squadron, 2CR, who acted as their coach during the competition.
“They were doing a lot of classic, traditional French cuisine,” said Litterell. “Escoffier is considered the king of cooking because he invented a lot of the practices, they [professionals] use today.”
The student team recreated their menu and practiced every day until it was perfected according to Litterell. Alvarez attended the competition once before and served as the team’s captain, teaching them everything that he remembered.
“Every year, the judges will choose something out of the Escoffier book, and that’s what every student team across the board has to do,” said Alvarez. “They have to do it to the best of their abilities and make it as classical as possible. You can’t really venture out of that, but once you go into your salad, dessert, chicken and other main dishes, you can pretty much do whatever you want [and] be creative.”
“Let’s start with the first thing that went out: the fish,” remembered de la Cruz. “That was like the classical dish that every single student team had to make.”
The team created a flat fish in comparison to flounder in taste and prepared it with a white wine cream sauce, sliced grapes, lemon and white peppercorn. The competition did not allow for any short cuts, requiring each student team to fillet a fish and to fabricate a whole chicken.
“They started off trying to fabricate a chicken, which is cutting it up into eight pieces,” said Litterell. “The first time they’re doing it, it takes them 20 minutes to do. These superstars, they got it down to like six minutes.”
Filleting and fabricating selected meats for the competition was only the beginning for the student team.
“For the student team, there’s two phases. There’s phase one, which is where we do our fabrications, our classical cuts of everything that they want us to showcase,” explained Alvarez. “Phase two is the live cooking portion. We have a certain time period that we have to finish [everything] within that time period. We have to do classical cuts. We have to fillet a fish. We have to fabricate a chicken, and we also had to do an Escoffier pastry dessert.”
“It was like a pastry cream. It’s basically eggs, vanilla, corn starch, sugar and pinch of salt,” said Joseph, adding that you have to bring the milk to a boil before mixing all of the ingredients together and making sure the ingredients were at the correct consistency. “It was a lot of mixing. My hands were tired, [and] my wrists were hurting. But, we had to get it right.”
Participating in competitions such as the 44th Annual Joint Culinary Training Competition allows for professional development with hours applying towards their certified chef certifications.
“It does open up doors for their career advancement through being like a general’s aide,” said
Litterell. “They [generals] are there, too, and they notice the Soldiers and how good they are.”
The student team knew that winning a medal would not be easy. The judges are professional master chefs who teach at schools such as the Culinary Institute, have traveled from Germany, France, England, the United States and more, and are selected to judge competitions all over the world.
“We thought we would go in there and get a commendable like, ‘thank you, come back next year; you did a good job,'” said Joseph on receiving the bronze medal. “We were not expecting that, so when we got it, we were happy overall.”
Alvarez, too, was taken by surprise on winning the silver medal for Student Chef of the Year.
“A lot of them told me they got to practice their dish a lot more times than I did. I didn’t practice my dish one time,” said Alvarez who relied on learning from previous student chefs’ critiques to avoid making the same mistakes. “My first time going up was the first time I ever did my dish, and then, to walk away with a silver.”
Alvarez continued, “I was extremely happy with my silver, and I was even happier that my student team was there continuously yelling and motivating me throughout that whole time. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t [have] walked out with a medal.”
Alvarez came a long way from his first competition and missed receiving the gold medal by only a couple of points according to Litterell.
“They put in a lot of time and effort into this,” said Litterell, also mentioning the possibility of their participating in a culinary competition in England and getting ready for next year’s 45th Annual Joint Training Competition. “It can’t be stated enough how great they did.”
To stay in up to date on the next worldwide culinary competition that 2CR and U.S. Army Europe will partake in, be sure to follow the 2CR Facebook page and the Advanced Food Service Training Division – Fort Lee’s Facebook page.