MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Although the lavish celebrations of Mardi Gras are traditionally held in many locations across the Unites States and in Europe, it is said that no one does it better than New Orleans. Blissful music, dancing, popular beverages and more flavors and varieties of food than one could throw a set of beads at - the ‘Big Easy' is the place to be for Fat Tuesday.
To bring the experience of Mardi Gras' tastes and traditions to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Marine and civilian culinary specialists competed in the Mardi Gras-themed, Culinary Team of the Quarter Competition at Mess Hall 211, March 22.
The chefs were challenged to provide a variety of Cajun and Creole flavors to wow a panel of judges as well as all the self-proclaimed taste testers in attendance.
Steve Sherman, district manager with Sodexo, a food and facilities management company, contracted by the Marine Corps, kicked off the event by highlighting how impressive the competitions are.
"A lot of hard work goes into this," said Sherman. "From the production managers to the Marines, the entire team takes a lot of effort and pride in pulling off this event."
Some competitors spent hours online and even purchased cook books to prepare for the event. The teams had approximately four hours to create and present their meals to a panel of four judges. The four teams also educated themselves on the history and traditions of Mardi Gras.
The judges based their decisions on taste, temperature, appearance and knowledge of the ingredients.
After all in attendance had their fill of food, Maj. Gen. Carl B. Jensen, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations - East, and Sherman presented the awards.
The first place winners of the competition, hailing from French Creek Mess Hall 420, were Annette Mageo and Gloria Petteway. Their menu also earned them the critically acclaimed People's Choice Award.
Their appetizing assault included Louisiana crab cakes and buffalo shrimp with a spicy Cajun ham and black eyed peas salad. The entrée was a Cajun chicken pasta, and for dessert, a traditional King's Cake.
"We worked hard to get here, very hard," said Mageo. "(At the culinary workshop) I thought to myself, ‘I am in it to win it.' This experience has broadened my scope of the culinary world."
Mageo and Petteway said they bonded over a day of shopping together before the competition and the experience helped bring the duo closer. With their new-found friendship, the two competed as one culinary force as opposed to two separate entities.
Now, with their innovative skill set of Cajun and Creole recipes in their cupboard, the team is looking forward to future culinary events.
Percy Cephus Sr. and Joshua Uter, chief cooks with the Brig, came in second place.
They made crab-stuffed mushrooms, Cajun vegetables and dirty rice as an appetizer with a Cajun pork and pecan stir fry as the entrée. For dessert, a flavor-packed Cajun bread pudding.
"We entered into the competition confident and ready to win, but we came in second place," said Uter. "When we had the (culinary) workshop, they told us it would be Mardi Gras themed, so I researched recipes and picked from them. (The result) was a little heartbreaking, but very enjoyable."
Jensen, an avid attendee of the culinary events, said the competition was magnificent, as always.
"The competitors put their heart and soul into this and the enthusiasm that's generated here is remarkable," said Jensen. "These things wouldn't happen without the full support of Sodexo, and that makes a huge difference. This is good food and plenty of it, and I would like to laud everyone who had a helping hand in this celebration. Chow halls aren't what they used to be - we need to do this across the Corps as we recognize the great men and women who make our chow."