MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
The fourth and final quarter Culinary Team of the Quarter Competition came to an appetizing conclusion at Mess Hall 211 aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Oct. 19.
Traditionally, four teams of ‘victuals veterans’ go head-to-head in a themed cook-off to determine the best civilian or Marine Corps run mess hall for the quarter.
“One of the hopes is that the program allows for the different cooks throughout the base to have an avenue to explore their culinary skills outside of the day-to-day cooking in the mess halls,” said Greg Nordeen, East Coast executive chef with Sodexo. “They have to cook the same foods every 21 days (in the mess hall). It’s an opportunity for them to grow their skills and do new and interesting things.”
For this quarter’s competition, all of the competitors’ meals had to be prepared by sauté or stir frying techniques, which brought forth smooth, sweet and spicy oriental flavors.
“They had to make meals that were sautéed or stir fried,” said Marina Salek, a Sodexo food production manager with Mess Hall 455 aboard Camp Johnson. “That’s why we got a lot of Asian foods. The ways we come up with the themes have to do with what we think we’re missing in the chow halls. We try and bring that to the competition so that (what they learn) can be trickled down into their own mess halls.”
The first place winners of the competition were from French Creek Mess Hall 303, Staff Sergeant Eric Howard and Lance Cpl. John Halfhill, both with Food Service Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 27, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. The Marine team began their ‘A Little Bit of Country’ menu with the cheesiest artichoke dip and tortilla chips.
Their entrée was a meatloaf cordon bleu covered in white cheese sauce, with a side of onion rice pilaf and asparagus wrapped with bacon pieces. For dessert, a simple, refreshing fruit salad.
“(The competition) was very stressful,” said Howard. “We pre-planned for this for about a month and a half. And once we knew that we would make it this far, I wasn’t anticipating us winning. I’ve been cooking for a long time so the cooking part was pretty easy but I’ve never did it on this scale.”
Regardless, Howard added that he felt great after the win and it was exciting to bring another trophy ‘home’ to Mess Hall 303.
“We just worked hard and I listened to everything my staff sergeant told me,” said Halfhill. He smiled as he added, “I even got yelled at a little, but it was all worth it. He put the menu together and I followed his lead.”
Halfhill added he has learned a lot since he first began cooking two years ago but there is always room for improvement.
“Everyone did an outstanding job, and the food was outstanding across the board,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 David Hunley, company commander with Food Service Company, CLR 27, 2nd MLG. “Every one of the competitors, just to get to this point, were awesome. The winners get to compete for the best of the year so that’s an impressive accomplishment in itself.”
Hunley added that in his 15 years working in the culinary field, the results of competition are still surprising.
“They step up the bar a little bit more every time; with the presentation, the quality and the product,” said Hunley. “It’s what you would expect from a five-star restaurant.”
Second place went to the civilian culinary artists Albert Sinclair and his partner Carol Lightfoot from French Creek Mess Hall 420, who also won the People’s Choice Award. They prepared a pork and shrimp lumpia for their appetizer, with an entrée of ‘perfect’ sesame chicken, shrimp fried rice and a vegetable stir fry. For dessert, the team made crisp banana spring rolls with ice cream.
“For me, everyone here is a winner and even though we got second place, I enjoyed it,” said Sinclair. “I have a passion for cooking. I love to just watching people eat and enjoy it with a smile on their face.”
Sodexo production manager Huey Brannon, with Mess Hall 411, said that the competitions do more than just test the skills of the chefs, but they enjoy it as well.
“Every few months we have this event just to tests the skills of Marines and civilian cooks to make them better as they go along,” said Brannon. “The competition is just for that reason: to showcase their talent and it’s always an awesome event and everybody always puts their hearts and souls into it.”
Master Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Middlebrooks, food service technician for MCB Camp Lejeune, said that the turnout showed great interest not only from the chef’s fellow service members and colleagues but base leaders and Sodexo officials as well.
“The turnout was excellent and the competition was phenomenal; I would expect nothing less from the support of the base,” said Middlebrooks. “The battalion commander was here, Major General Jensen was here; the command was definitely represented. Then there was the ‘team’ concept on display. Corporate leaders from Sodexo as well as installation leaders and production managers converged and put it all together.”
Middlebrooks added that he was honored to be able to judge the foods at this competition, and thought the process was “simple, but comprehensive.”
Lt. Col. Susan B. Seaman, commanding officer of Headquarters and Support Battalion, MCB Camp Lejeune, said she enjoys watching Marines and civilians go head-to-head in the culinary competitions, and that it’s good that they get the opportunity to show their hidden talents.
“The food was fantastic,” said Seaman. “We have Sodexo chow halls and we have chow halls that are run by the Marine Corps but they have to follow the ‘Marine Corps cook book.’ It’s good for them because a lot of these people are extremely well trained and it’s nice to see that they get a chance to come out here and show us what they can do.”