Culinary specialists compete for title of Devil’s top chef
CAMP HOVEY, South Korea ¬– As the countdown began, seven culinary specialists from each battalion in the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, rushed into preparing a special meal during a Devil’s Top Chef competition at the Junction City dining facility on Camp Hovey, South Korea, Feb 17.
With limited help from their senior mentors, the culinary specialists only had two hours to create complex and creative meals that would later be judged by senior leaders from the brigade.
“We conducted this competition for morale purposes,” said Master Sgt. Fernando Silva, the Devil brigade’s food services senior culinary management noncommissioned officer, said. “It’s a friendly competition, and it gives me and other leaders in the brigade an idea of what skills we have in our formations.”
During the competition, each culinary specialist Soldier was asked to prepare a meal that consisted of an appetizer, a salad, a hot meal with fish, lamb, bison and squid, as well as a dessert, using each of the given ingredients.
In the beginning, the culinary specialists had to process the ingredients by themselves until their supervisors were let in to help the culinary specialists.
While taste and variance in the use of their ingredients were also important, the chefs had to also present dishes that were aesthetically pleasing.
“We definitely enforce creativity, and encourage the culinary specialists to be very creative,” Silva noted. “They would have to utilize the products they have and make a lot of things.”
As the culinary specialists finished preparing a meal, their meals were evaluated by the senior leaders of the Devil brigade on eye appeal, uniqueness, color and texture, aroma and taste, temperature, degree of difficulty, and overall presentation.
Out of the seven participants, who had previously won their battalion-level competitions, the top three places were named, and only one culinary specialist earned the honor of earning title as the Devil brigade’s top chef and an Army Commendation Medal and a customized chef’s jacket.
“It feels great to actually win,” said Spc. Tusana Haffizulla, the victorious culinary specialist from the 1st Engineer Battalion, 1st ABCT. “The competition was intense and competitive. I knew everybody else could really cook, so I was little bit nervous about it.”
In order to out cook the rest of the competition, Haffizulla had to overcome one very specific challenge - making squid.
“My noncommissioned officer trained me to actually do the squid,” Haffizulla said. “If I needed anything done, he was always there making sure I got to learn so I could teach other Soldiers as well.”
Haffizulla will soon be attending the promotion board in an effort to become a sergeant. Her victory was a great opportunity to promote her name to the leaders in her unit, according to Haffizulla.
Beyond recognizing a culinary specialist with creativity and potential, another purpose of the competition was to search for a potential candidate for a culinary arts team to participate in future culinary arts competitions.
“Everyone was incredible, and we saw a lot of hidden talents, which I myself hadn’t even seen out of these Soldiers,” Silva said. “These Soldiers have a lot of culinary skills they could bring in from different parts of the world they are from.”
When the brigade gets back from its nine-month rotation to the Republic of Korea, they will hold another competition to pick a team to compete at a culinary arts competition, representing the 1st Infantry Division, said Silva.