Members of the Fort Drum Culinary Arts Team demonstrated an ability to thrive under pressure at the 42nd Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event at Fort Lee, Va., and brought home 23 medals for their efforts.
Collectively, the 10 chefs from the 10th Mountain Division (LI) earned two gold, 15 silver and six bronze medals. They also received a commendable and a best-in-class medal. They were named runner-up in the coveted Armed Forces Team of the Year category, behind the returning champion Joint Team Hawaii and from a pool of 16 competing teams.
In addition, three chefs from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (LI), from Fort Polk, La., won two gold and three silver medals in individual categories.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Bogle, team manager, said that the team accomplished much this year. Speaking for the team, he said that placing second felt bittersweet to them, but they were proud of their results.
“This is the best Fort Drum has done since 1999,” Bogle said. “It takes a lot of work and dedication to participate in the Competitive Training event. This team put in a tremendous amount of work, and every single chef on the team strived for perfection.”
“It was a great feeling because we lost to a good team, but it also hurt because we were so close,” added Sgt. 1st Class Lagena Boggs, team captain. “I feel it gives us hope for the program.”
The team’s youngest chef, Pfc. Huy Nguyen, won gold and was named Student Chef of the Year among a field of 15 competitors. His award-winning menu was a raspberry soufflé with a chocolate truffle center, powdered sugar dusting, a Victorian butter cookie with espresso aglaise sauce and macerated fruit and pistachio ice cream with a pistachio crumble.
Nguyen was presented with a trophy and a Stratford University scholarship during the awards ceremony Friday. As Student Chef of the Year, he has an opportunity to compete at the American Culinary Federation National Convention in July.
“The feeling when my name was called is indescribable,” he said. “In my head, I told myself that this trophy isn’t for me, it was for my team. They supported me since day one. It was an amazing feeling seeing the looks on my team’s faces, knowing I made them all proud and also knowing I made my Family proud.”
Additionally, Nguyen was one of two Soldiers invited to join the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team. USACAT is the military’s culinary team, and it offers members the opportunity to compete in international-level events like the Culinary Olympics in Europe. According to the Advanced Food Service Training Division at Fort Lee, 28 service members tried out for a spot on the team. Throughout the competition, candidates were assessed on their work ethic, appearance, military bearing, culinary knowledge and teamwork.
Nguyen trained with Boggs and Bogle, both accomplished pastry chefs themselves, and they knew that the junior chef was making an impression at the competition.
“I was very proud,” Bogle said. “All of his hard work, training and dedication to perfection paid off. It was great watching him execute and work flawlessly in the kitchen.”
Bogle earned a gold medal for his cold pastry entry – an Ancho chili mousse with a passion fruit curd center, wrapped in sponge cake, a tulie cookie with a pulled sugar spiral, a pina colada sorbet with pistachio clusters, strawberry sauce and braised pineapple and macerated fruits.
The team of Sgt. Ian Burress and Sgt. Joshua Hoyt earned silver in the Hot Food Nutritional Challenge. This category required the duo to design a menu that meets specific nutritional requirements approved by a dietitian on site and then prepare the three-course meal of less than 850 calories in a two-hour window. To make it more challenging, the menu also must meet a specific protein, carbohydrate and fat ratio.
This was the third competition for Spc. Nichapa Srisaringkarn, who worked with the team of professional chefs in the Hot Food Kitchen category and earned two silver medals.
“I learn more and more every competition,” she said. “The judges’ critiques are always helpful, and everything could always be done better. You’re always trying to do better than what you did the year before.”
Sgt. Maj. Michael Youngs, Fort Drum’s chief culinary management sergeant major, watched the culinarians in action and saw the impact they made throughout the event.
“Other teams in the competition, along with personnel working the competition – to include some of the judges – told us that we are the team that everyone needed to look out for and that we were looking very strong,” Youngs said. “We were approached several times by leaders who work in dining facilities in the Pentagon asking if any of our Soldiers wanted to work there.”
This kind of attention, the feedback that the chefs received and the accolades earned at the awards ceremony should be the catalyst for even better results in the years ahead.
“Finishing as runner-ups put the Fort Drum Culinary Program back on the map,” Youngs said. “There were Soldiers who were on orders to Fort Drum already asking how they can be on the team next year.”
The team also accomplished a goal of having each Soldier earn a medal at the competition. Boggs said that not every team can achieve this, and it is an indication that Fort Drum’s program is progressing. Burress said that this goal was possible because they focused on teamwork.
“What made this team so great was that we all demanded perfection and were there to help push each other to make each plate great,” Burress said.
While some team members may find themselves at different duty stations and joining new culinary teams next year, Bogle said they can take the knowledge and training they learned at Fort Drum and share it with their new teammates. For those returning culinarians, Burress said they will build on the momentum this team has created.
“We know what our mistakes both as a team and individually are, and we will begin to break these down and continue to improve,” he said. “There’s always a feeling of ‘we’ll get them next year.’”
The annual Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event is the largest military cooking competition in North America. This year, there were 27 teams competing from all branches of services. The international challenge featured teams from the U.S., France, United Kingdom and Germany.
Overall, 36 gold, 166 silver and 159 bronze medals were presented to military chefs and teams.