MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS --
“Chef of the Quarter is a competition where we get all the chefs from the three dining facilities on base together to compete and show off their cooking skills,” said Maria Gugliotti, general manager, Littleton Mess Hall. “We designed the competition to be similar to [The Food Network’s] ‘Chopped’ and ‘Iron Chef.’ The purpose is to compete and also to provide the chefs with an opportunity to put a little bit of flare into their cooking.”
Four teams of two chefs started the competition with a written test and trivia, Sept. 15. During this first phase, the groups were assessed on their knowledge of physical safety and the technical aspects of cooking. Only the top three teams advanced to the second day to compete in the cook-off.
“A majority of the foods we cook are from scratch,” said competing chef, Lance Cpl. Marco Perry, food service specialist, 1st Tank Battalion. “One of the biggest focuses in food services is ensuring the food is cooked properly and ensuring it is prepared as sanitary as possible.”
With the three teams selected, the competitors moved on to the second day of the competition; a timed cook-off event. Given pre-determined ingredients and approximately four hours, the chefs were required to plan a meal and come up with their own menus.
“On day two, the chefs get a mystery basket,” Gugliotti said. “They have certain items they have to incorporate into their meal. The chefs have to know what they’re doing in the kitchen to keep within the time limit.”
Required ingredients varied between the three teams. Some of the ingredients such as sauerkraut, apple cider vinegar, bananas and asparagus required the teams to think in innovative ways.
“The hardest part is making on the spot adjustments to incorporate the foods we’re given into our menus,” Perry said. “It is forcing you to be creative. When you work with ingredients you are unsure of, it allows you to learn more about the ingredients and how to use them.”
Last quarter’s winners served as judges, scoring contenders on their physical and food safety in the kitchen as well as presentation and quality of their dishes.
“The primary factor is cleanliness and organization,” said Manuel Ramirez, Dunham Mess Hall chef, Sodexo government services. “When the chefs are organized, they show they know what they are doing in the kitchen.”
Col. Jay D. Wiley, assistant chief of staff, G-4 Installations and Logistics; Navy Capt. John A. Lamberton, commanding officer, Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital; and Lt. Col. Christophe M. Messineo, director logistics division, Headquarters Battalion, participated in the event as guest judges. Once the food was tasted, the judges announced their decision; first place was awarded to Antwone Wilson Sr. and Jennifer Marotta, chefs, Sodexo government services. According to Wilson, their banana bread, made from scratch, caught the eyes of the judges.
“Every quarter, the chefs produce a lot of amazing recipes and techniques,” Gugliotti said. “It provides chefs an opportunity to be creative and try out a new style or dish. These guys are already working in the mess halls and it enables them to discover their capabilities.”