Not your grandpa’s chow hall: FSS Airmen wow judges during cook-off

Dining and fitness facility Airmen from the 786th Force Support Squadron pose for a photo with their coaches, judges and leadership after completing a cook-off competition at Kapaun Air Station, Germany, March 4, 2021. The Airmen currently assigned to fitness facilities eked past the dining facility Airmen to win the 2021 Culinary Competition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kirby Turbak)



Story by Staff Sgt. Kirby Turbak 

86th Airlift Wing/Public Affairs 

KAPAUN AIR STATION, Germany – When people think of fine dining, military food generally isn’t what comes to mind.

The judges of the 786th Force Support Squadron’s cook-off are rethinking old stereotypes.

Two teams made up of six and seven 786th FSS Airmen competed against each other on March 4, 2021, in a three-course winner-takes-all cook-off.

The competition was a collaboration between the United States Air Forces in Europe – Air Forces Africa and 3rd Air Force enlisted aide teams along with the 786th FSS team.

Enlisted aides are responsible for assisting senior leaders with an array of tasks including planning, preparing and catering events.

“As enlisted aides, we have tiered training, so we go to Advanced Culinarian School at Fort Lee which is the Army’s version of a legit culinary boot camp,” said Tech. Sgt. Curtis Stackpole, USAFE-AFAFRICA deputy commander enlisted aide. “Then we go to the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie, New York, and become professional chefs.”

The culinary training made enlisted aides perfect coaches for the event.

While one team was made of FSS Airmen who usually work at the dining facility, the other team was made of Airmen who work at the fitness center.

“My team has six members, two of them have a bit of food service background. The other four have only worked the fitness side,” said Staff Sgt. Samantha Perez, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander enlisted aide and fitness team coach. “All their cooking knowledge they originally brought was only what they learned in tech school and from past experience.”

Each team was coached by an enlisted aide, who took the time to meet with their respective team for approximately six weeks prior to the competition. The teams met up twice a week for several hours to build their culinary skills.

During the competition, each team’s enlisted aide coach could not do any cooking or even taste test the food, they were only able to make suggestions to their team from smell and sight.

Teams had five hours to create a three-course meal.

“Their first course had to involve shrimp, the second course had to be beef tenderloin and the third needed a berry component of some sorts,” said Perez.

After time was up, their courses were judged by Maj. Gen. Randall Reed, 3rd Air Force commander, Chief Master Sgt. Brion Blais, USAFE-AFAFRICA command chief, and Stackpole.

All judges were amazed by the professionalism and phenomenal quality of the food.
Stackpole told all those attending that he is a huge fan of crème brûlée and the one with berries for the competition was one of the greatest he’s ever had.

Even though the judges loved the food from both teams, there could be only one winner.

The underdog fitness Airmen eked past the dining facility Airmen to win this year’s Culinary Competition.

“Before this competition I wasn’t comfortable with cooking, but after the training I’m way more confident,” said Airman 1st Class Jacqueline Cancino, 786th FSS fitness technician. “We’ve been working hard for the past six weeks and today we showed off how great of a team we are.”

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