Best in show

A serious judging table at the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A serious judging table at the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

More than 200 servicemembers descended upon Fort Lee, Va. Despite their different service backgrounds, they were all dressed in the same uniform – a white chef’s coat.

The servicemembers had gathered for the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition, one of the largest culinary competitions in North America. Sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, military chefs from around the globe in all branches of the U.S. armed forces had a chance to showcase their talents.

The event consisted of live competitions and displays with a format that mirrors the structure of the World Culinary Olympics held every four years in Erfurt, Germany. The show had it all; sculptures, pastries, seafood, wild game and edible centerpieces. From aiolis to zabaglione, it was there.

A signature dish at the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A signature dish at the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Petty officer 2nd Class John Smith was a competitor during various challenges throughout the event. Smith is a food service specialist assigned to Station Fort Lauderdale and credits the busy pace of the station for his ability to contend with the best at the competition.

“I have to anticipate changes in my daily routine and schedules in the galley because the SAR or LE alarm may have just sounded,” said Smith. “Just like in culinary competitions, you have to be ready to deal with certain things that come your way.”

Despite barriers at his station – a menu change due to a late-night mission – or at the competition – a heat source not cooperating – Smith says it all boils down to the results.

“Things are not always going to go the way you want, but it is the end result that matters and it is what the judges will remember,” said Smith.

And what were the results at this competition? Silver, gold and best in show.

On the first day of competition, Petty Officer 1st Class Jason Rohrs competed for Armed Forces Chef of the Year. Touted as the most stressful event at the competition, the Coast Guard was allowed one spot out of the 16 openings. Rohrs took on the challenge and was awarded the silver medal. As an added bonus, scoring a silver medal qualified him as a certified executive chef through the American Culinary Federation.

Petty Officer 1st Class of Kevin Saiyasak receives best in show the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Petty Officer 1st Class of Kevin Saiyasak receives best in show the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Competition. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Once Rohrs finished with his event, he started preparing his team for their signature dish competitions. The Coast Guard team, led by Rohrs, included Petty Officer 1st Class of Kevin Saiyasak, Petty Officer 1st Class Justin Pearl, Petty Officer 1st Class Laron Jones, Petty Officer 2nd Class David Vega, Petty Officer 2nd Class Doug Jokerst and Petty Officer 2nd Class John Smith.

Signature dishes where produced dozens of times each day that week. Various members of the Coast Guard team received medals throughout the week but in the end the name that was called above all over chefs as best in show was Coast Guard’s own, Saiyasak.

“It was a great honor to win an American Culinary Federation gold medal in the contemporary cooking category and win best in show,” said Saiyasak after the event. “I couldn’t be more proud to cook alongside this year’s Coast Guard’s Culinary team.”

“Compared to our sister services, the Coast Guard is often at a disadvantage due to limited amount of training,” added Saiyasak. “Most of the competitors train weeks in advance, and some even year around. Our chefs did the best with the training we had and the time given. The raw talent that the Coast Guard team showed was remarkable.”

Remarkable. And delicious.

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