MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The atmosphere was hot and tense. Everyone had a knife, and movements were made intently. This was not combat.
It’s the kitchen during a culinary competition at the Wallace Creek Mess Hall aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Jan. 27.
Marine food service specialists and civilian chefs from four mess halls across base competed in the “Best of the Base” culinary competition. The four teams, Mess Halls 455, FC 303, 411 and RR 135, each won “Culinary Team of the Quarter” in 2014 and were pitted against one another to decide who would claim victory for the year.
After completing a 50-question test, the teams spent four hours preparing a meal that was judged by an expert panel of chefs, as well as Marines and civilians who ate at the mess hall and voted for their favorite foods.
The chef teams were graded based on their performance on the test, menu presentation and presentation of the meal, said Mark Sopkiw, the Mess Hall 227 production manager and emcee for the event.
“The food was fabulous, and this was obviously a grueling competition,” said Col. Yori R. Escalante, Deputy Commander, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, and event guest speaker. “From what I have seen, those cooking shows on TV have nothing on this.”
Escalante also said that the base has many highly talented culinary experts who cook nutritional meals that fuel Marines and help them accomplish their mission.
Carlos Blanco and Thomas Borja, the two chefs representing Mess Hall 455 on Camp Johnson, won 1st Place overall in the competition. Blanco and Borja have competed for the last four years in the competition and have won first place twice now, but they were still excited.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Borja, a 31-year-old native of the Philippines. “You can feel it down in your belly and it’s awesome.”
The winners were not the only ones who enjoyed the competition.
“This is what I joined to do,” said Sgt. Tannisha Gamble, a food service specialist with Headquarters Regiment, 2nd Marine Logistics Group. “I really enjoy cooking and creating stuff.”
Gamble, a 28-year-old native of Jacksonville, Florida, and her teammate Lance Cpl. Agusto Jordan, also a food service specialist with Headquarters Regiment, 2nd Marine Logistics group, came in 4th Place in the competition, but they were all smiles as Marines walked by their table to compliment their food as the event ended.
After the final ceremony, the chefs packed up their equipment and headed back to their normal duties, but for anyone who missed the competition those chefs will continue making and serving meals at your local mess hall on base.