A Few Good Cooks


When I stepped onto the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine, USS Topeka (SSN 754), one of the first things said to me by my first leading petty officer, now CSC (SS) Robert Vieyra, was that, “as a cook, you have to make food like the guys can’t go out to a drive-thru. We are under water. You are the morale. A good meal will make a guy underway not feel like the journey takes forever.”

By definition, culinary art is a form of art. It is an expression of one’s soul communicated via food instead of canvas or paper. It involves the touch of salt and pepper, the ratio of water to concentrate, the choice of grilled or deep fried, the garnishes that set up the plot of your masterpiece and how you are feeling that day. Yes, I am proud to be a Navy culinary specialist, there is no denying that. However, there are constraints, especially if you are a submariner. With a limited load-out selection, and many rules and regulations to what can or cannot be cooked, I have learned that working in a galley in the Navy, under water, is nothing like the 5-Star restaurants that I had envisioned. You must adapt and learn to work with what you have to please your patrons.

Keep adding tools to your tool box and sharpen your knives.

With eight years of service, rolling from a submarine galley to an ashore facility at Cross Hall Galley, Naval Submarine Base (SUBASE) New London, Groton, Connecticut, my skills were diversified as I realized that we have the capability to make products from scratch and the culture to innovate. As a Five-Star facility for three consecutive years and a Capt. Edward F. Ney Memorial Award (NEY) nominated galley, this was a dream come true, and it was only the beginning. With 90 percent of our main entrées made entirely from raw ingredients, this was a gym for my skillsets and I worked out daily. I gladly took on the role of galley watch captain as a petty officer 2nd class and led the duty section during our Five-Star inspection, contributing to our 2017 Five-Star award and Ney nomination. I was meritoriously advanced to petty officer 1st class as a result. The recognitions are important, but what I truly cherish is the opportunity to train Sailors inside and outside the galley. Via the Intermediate Stop Program, our galley also allows culinary specialist students from the nearby basic enlisted submarine school to intern and gain hands-on experience in their craft. The fleet reaps what we sow in the form of operationally ready and confident junior CSs to man our submarine galleys at the rate of 40 students per month. I consider it an honor when I am called upon to cook for our admiral and distinguished visitors. Nevertheless, whether it is the junior Sailor on the line or a distinguished guest, my primary goal is to see a patron smile, which tells me that my masterpieces made their day.

Home life truly matters.

No Sailor can propel themselves to their goals without the solid foundation from their families. My patient wife is familiar with the sacrifices required. I guess I could not fathom how much support meant to me until I saw the proud faces of my entire family at my re-enlistment at the USS Constitution.

Take your talents to the next level and showcase them to the world.

My first introduction into culinary competitions was by chance. It takes an extraordinary mentor to see the potential in his or her Sailors and, in my case, that was CSSCM (SS/AW) Christopher Nailon, a deity in the food service community. He asked me if I wanted to compete at the 1st annual sub sandwich throw-down for the submarine centennial. With only two days to plan, we featured a unique hollowed French bread carved out like a canoe and inlaid with smoked summer sausage to prevent leakage and to enhance the taste. It was filled with a loaded seafood soup comprised of fresh ingredients of cherry clams, steamer clams, salmon and crab, topped with fried onions and scallions. We labeled it as “soup sandwich,” military slang for unsatisfactory. Clearly, the judges found this humorous and a misnomer, since our masterpiece was selected as the victor of the contest. As a result, we were invited to the World Food Championships. I knew this was a huge deal because it was a military and civilian hybrid competition comprised of legendary cooks from all over the world, with a total of 1,500 competitors. We earned fourth place overall, and the Navy culinary team came knocking on my door. The Master Chief asked me if I wanted to join the team to compete in the United Kingdom. I never thought that my passion for food would emanate beyond the gates of SUBASE New London. One thing I learned being a chef in the United States Navy is that the doors are definitely there, and it is up to you to turn the knob and open them. With the help of selfless leaders, talented shipmates, and a supportive family, I am honored to be an ambassador of our mighty Navy, promoting good will, talent and sportsmanship to the world, via palate.

November/December 2017