By Petty Officer 3rd Class Mark Jones
The Coast Guard has, for the last four years, hand-picked and sent eight food service specialists to represent the entire Coast Guard against the greatest gastronomical talents of the U.S. military at the Annual Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Va.
Teams that attend the competition travel from all over the world, and most come from single units or installations. Many of them train together consistently for months at a time and have been competing year after year.
The Coast Guard team met each other for the first time at this year's competition, but that didn't stop them from becoming the first non-Army team in 35 years to place in the top three in the event's most prestigious Installation of The Year competition. The team earned third place.
According to Petty Officer 2nd Class Ed Fuchs, the teams captain, all interested and qualified food service specialists were solicited to apply for the team by submitting command-endorsed packages including detailed information about how good they are at what they do.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Justin Reed, an administrator of the competition and also a competitor in previous years, personally selected the members based on criteria such as what they have done in the Coast Guard, what they have done before joining and outside the Coast Guard, what schools and training they have attended and what their strong points are.
"We got more involved," said Reed. "We put our heads together and we wanted to show other services that we can do it – that we've got the skill level. We entered last year and placed fifth, so we knew we had a chance to get it this year."
The week-long event comprised several individual and team competitions in skills such as hot and cold food preparation; a field kitchen exercise in which five-person teams were required to cook a four-course meal for 80 using an army burner, a water truck, and a tent; "mystery basket" competitions which required the chef to prepare an artful and nutritious meal out of randomly selected food items placed in a covered basket; an ice-carving competition; and others.
Participants competed against a standard, and how they did against that standard determined whether they earned a medal for the event. Each gold, silver, or bronze medal earned added a set number of points to the overall team score in the Installation of The Year competition. The Coast Guard's team earned a total of 17 gold, 12 silver, and three bronze medals.
"We medaled in every event that we competed in," said Petty Officer 1st Class Stephen Bishop, a member of Team Coast Guard.
"Third place in four years – some of these teams have been doing it for 35 years," Reed said. "For us to reach third place in four years is unbelievable, but we did it. To me, it's incredible what we've accomplished."
"Last year we were fifth, this year we're third," Reed said. "First place is almost within reach."
Photo caption: The U.S. Coast Guard's FSC2 Edward Fuchs separates mussels during the second day of the Field Competition held March 6. The field competition was of several cooking events that took place during the 34th Army Culinary Arts Competition held at Fort Lee March 2-13. (U.S. Army photograph by T. Anthony Bell).
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