Not Just Cooks: 1st Infantry Division Soldiers Participate in “Best Cook Competition”

Photo By Pfc. Dawson Smith | U.S. Army Spc. Denea Briley, a culinary specialist assigned to 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, uses a whisk while preparing a dish for the “Best Cook Competition,” at the Devil’s Den Dining Facility, on Fort Riley, Kansas, September 29, 2022. The “Best Cook Competition'' tested the technical and tactical skills of culinary specialists across the division. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Dawson Smith)  



Story by Pfc. Dawson Smith 

19th Public Affairs Detachment

FORT RILEY, Kan. – The 1st Infantry Division hosted the “Best Cook Competition,” at multiple locations across Fort Riley, Kansas, September 28-30, 2022.

The aptly-named “Best Cook Competition” was organized to evaluate four contesting culinary specialists within the 1st Infantry Division, two noncommissioned officers and two junior Soldiers, in several areas meant to determine not only their proficiency as cooks but also their tactical skills as Soldiers.

“It was a rounded competition, so it included total Soldier concepts such as weapons functions, map reading, and the ACFT,” said Sgt. Maj. Jackie Zerby, the 1st Infantry Division chief culinary management noncommissioned officer. “We’re Soldiers as well, and the battlefield does not delineate MOS.“

The competitors underwent intensive and time-pressured weapon functions with M4 carbines, military map reading, as well as a full Army Combat Fitness Test and board, which in itself required the contestants to be knowledgeable about their jobs along with basic Soldier information.

“I had to take it one day at a time, fitting in study sessions as much as I could, going off previous knowledge and training for this competition,” said Sgt. Withney Martin, a culinary specialist assigned to 511th Quartermaster Company, Division Sustainment Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. “It was motivating to me, even though it was strenuous to involve land navigation, pulling apart a weapon, cooking competitively, and finally doing an ACFT.”

The highlight of the three-day event, the cook-off, was favored by each of the contestants. It allowed them to show off their skill at doing what they each loved most – cooking.

“We had a mystery box challenge and my time management skills were put to the test,” said U.S. Army Spc. Peter Kopacz, a culinary specialist assigned to 101st Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. “To experience a new way of cooking, being timed and adding a mystery box was definitely one of the best culinary experiences I have had.”

Provided with a mystery box full of food, each of the contestants had to produce a meal utilizing at least one of each item given, including blueberries, habanero peppers, bacon plantains and ahi tuna. They had to prepare five servings in two hours, which included menu making, planning, and dish setup.

Although the Soldiers loved the cook-off the most, they each understood the importance of having basic Soldier skills to complement it. “You will always need your basic Soldier skills, regardless of your MOS, because they are your foundation to rely on when you end up in a combat zone,” Kopacz said.

At the end of the event, based on each Soldier’s overall performance, Martin and Kopacz won the competition, with Martin representing the culinary specialist noncommissioned officers, and Kopacz representing the culinary specialist junior Soldiers.

All of the contestants demonstrated resilience and perseverance throughout the competition. Despite knowing their weaknesses and where they messed up, each Soldier tackled every category with everything they had, consistently personifying the professionalism, leadership, and confidence ideal for all Soldiers.

“Regardless of who was going to win or lose, they were all cheering each other on,” said Zerby. “We serve as a team, and regardless of individual events, there is nothing we can do without each other.”

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