By Russell Stewart, Office of Corporate Communications, Naval Supply Systems Command
With a determined flurry of activity and a final round of high-fives, the U.S. Navy Culinary Arts Team (NCAT) paused to take a breath and chug bottles of water, having finished the last challenge of the 44th Annual Joint Culinary Training Exercise (JCTE) at the MacLaughlin Fitness Center, Fort Lee, Virginia.
“JCTE helps you keep an open mind; if you’re willing to learn, you can learn a lot about yourself and cooking,” said NCAT member, Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Kelsie Aday.
The 2019 NCAT members hail from the Navy food management teams at NAVSUP Fleet Logistics Centers Jacksonville, Norfolk, San Diego and Puget Sound.
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CS2 Pan Phyu sautés vegetables during the Joint Culinary Training Exercise Mobile Kitchen Trailer event at Fort Lee, Virginia. –photo by Russell Stewart
The JCTE, administered by the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, is the largest American Culinary Federation (ACF) sanctioned competition in North America, showcasing the talent of military chefs from around the globe in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and foreign military teams.
“The JCTE is a chance for growth,” said NCAT member Culinary Specialist Seaman Najee Bennett. “You get to take what we learned here and encourage other chefs.”
The competing military members hone their skills as culinary specialists and improve the quality of food services to their units, enabling them to better support our service members at home and deployed.
NAVSUP Food Service oversees policy, supporting healthy and nutritionally-balanced foods to ensure the Navy’s fighting forces operate at peak performance and are ready to respond to threats worldwide, contributing directly to Sailors’ quality of life and morale. NAVSUP’s policy also complies with the defense department’s Go for Green® food identification system designed to help service members choose healthy foods and beverages at every meal.
“The culinary specialist (CS) rate has taught me a lot. There are different sides to cooking. It’s not just ship-based cooking; there are many special meals to prepare,” said Culinary Specialist 1st Class Hermila Elliott, NCAT member. “Food is a huge morale booster, and we’re the ones who make it happen.”
JCTE is sanctioned by the ACF, the certifying agency for culinary professionals, allowing our Sailors and other military members to earn compatible civilian credentials from the exercise. This improves readiness and helps them with their career development, while providing the assistance they need when they decide to transition out of the military.
The JCTE teams are not competing against each other but against the culinary industry standards. The events showcase the chefs in timed cooking challenges similar to the television shows “Chopped” or “Iron Chef America.”
The challenges include mobile kitchen trailers, student-only teams, themed table displays, individual contemporary cooking and pastries, a nutrition-based meal, and an international challenge where teams of two create a meal from a mystery basket.
Several challenges will crown individual achievement including, Student Chef, Armed Forces Chef, Master Chef, and Army Enlisted Aide of the Year.
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Joseph Wisniewski, chief of the Advanced Culinary Training Division at Fort Lee, Virginia, believes that the JCTE can send more winners to ACF competitions in the future as the exercise grows.
“My favorite part of JCTE though, is meeting the new, young chefs and watching them display their skills,” Wisniewski shared.
The JCTE has been conducted at Fort Lee for 44 of the last 46 years, except during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom 1.
The exercise encourages knowledge sharing among military services and allied and partner-nation armed forces. By sharing techniques and information, participants bring back an expanded variety of meal options and styles to their home commands.
“Being a CS has given me the chance to experience different food and different people, to learn their backgrounds,” declared Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Pan Phyu, NCAT member. “Food is life, and brings all of us together.”