Friday, April 30, 2010

Close quarters

I remember walking aboard a World War II submarine in San Diego in the early 1970s. Of note was the size of the galley in the Gato class boat. The tight quarters barely allowed one skinny cook to work.

Boats of the modern Navy provide space for at least two culinary specialists and one master chief!

NORFOLK (April 23, 2010) Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West flips burgers with Culinary Specialist Seaman Mykal Martin aboard the Virginia-class attack submarine USS New Mexico (SSN 779).

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jennifer A. Villalovos.

Red pepper roasting

I started my Navy culinary career at NAS Lemoore. Ordered to Attack Squadron 127 in March 1971, this young commissary seaman apprentice was initially assigned to the bake shop at the main galley.

SAN DIEGO (April 27, 2010) Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Eric Amador, assigned to Naval Air Station Lemoore, roasts a red bell pepper while preparing a dish for the 2010 Navy Region Southwest Culinary Competition. The team from NAS Lemoore won the competition and will represent the region in an upcoming competition in Washington D.C.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Turkey stock

While I don't run a pure scratch kitchen, I find it hard to let two turkey carcasses go to waste.

A simmering stockpot is the perfect destination for the leftover bones, which I often freeze after serving a turkey dinner.

Turkey stock gives me a chance to return to my culinary roots, to a day when military cooks made the entire meal from scratch. There was no other way.

Even as "convenience food" crept into Navy food service, most galleys continued to scratch-cook most entrees, side dishes and baked items.

We rarely made stock, especially at sea. As the supply of bones diminished, it became increasingly impractical. Plus, dedicating one steal-jacketed kettle on small ships was impractical.

By the time I discharged from active duty in 1979, boneless meats (including raw white and dark meat turkey rolls) had replaced bone-in cuts in the supply system. Commercially available chicken and beef base had replaced the stockpot.

I was thrilled by the opportunity to produce a two-gallon batch of turkey stock each month. Stock production gives me a chance to teach stock-production to residents that enjoy cooking.


Add appropriate kitchen scraps to the stockpot. This is a good way to use onion peels, parsley stems, celery tops and tomato ends. Save for the two or three days leading to stock production.

2 turkey carcasses, about 12 to 14 pounds
2 large onions, roughly chopped
6 ribs celery, roughly chopped
4 carrots, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
3-4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon peppercorns
Water to cover

Break up carcass and place in 16- to 20-quart stockpot. Add remaining ingredients. Cover with cold water.

Bring to a boil over heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 to 4 hours, skimming occasionally, until turkey flavor comes through in the stock.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer into large container. Cool in ice water bath until the internal temperature of stock drops to 41 degrees or less. Refrigerate or freeze in desired amounts.

Yield varies, but you should realize 1-1/2 to 2 gallons.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ready, set, go ...

At my current position, I work through a mental checklist each morning when I first walk into the kitchen. It's a routine that's served me well for nearly 40 years in the business.

My checklist is much like the pre-flight checklist that my father worked through each time he climbed in the left seat of the family Cessna 182 when I was a child. Dad wanted to ensure all systems on the aircraft were in good working order.

My mental checklist helps me size-up the day. I check refrigerator temperatures and make sure the resident assigned to breakfast properly cleaned the kitchen. I also take the time to lay tools out and get the kitchen ready for production.

The French call this process mise en place. In addition to organizing my work station (to the left of the range), I set up the cutting board and collect ingredients for the soup, entree and sides for lunch.

Here's the process I used for Wednesday's lunch:
  1. Set the soup pot on the range
  2. Set two saute pans on the range, one for sauteed zucchini and the other for Alfredo
  3. Filled the pasta pot with water for ravioli and set it on the range
  4. Set up the cutting board
  5. Placed onion, carrot, celery, ham, split peas and spices behind the cutting board for the soup
  6. Placed Parmesan cheese, butter, milk, flour and frozen corn on the counter for the sauce
  7. Placed zucchini in the sink to be washed
After I punch in for my shift, I head down to my office (in the basement), put on my chef coat and apron and grab my knives. The last thing I usually do is to bring the protein up from the freezer (or refrigerator if thawed).

While mise en place isn't the most glamorous aspect of the chef's day, it's essential.

"Preparing the mise en place ahead of time allows the chef to cook without having to stop and assemble items, which is desirable in recipes with time constraints," according to Wikipedia.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Submarine Missouri reaches milestone as commissioning day approaches

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class T.H. Merritt, Submarine Group 2 Public Affairs

GROTON, Conn. (NNS) -- A milestone in the life of the Navy's newest Virginia-class submarine was marked April 16 as the crew of Pre-Commissioning Unit Missouri (SSN 780) moved aboard and began bringing the submarine's systems to life on "In Service Day" in Groton, Conn.

During "In Service Day," crew members moved aboard the submarine and began general day-to-day operations and preparations for sea-trials, work-ups and eventual commissioning.

Cmdr. Timothy Rexrode, the submarine's commanding officer, leads a crew of about 134 officers and enlisted personnel.

Rexrode said they were excited, as they hurried across the gangway.

"'In Service Day' is a big day for the crew because we take control of the sub's safety and security from the folks at General Dynamics Electric Boat," said Rexrode, from Spencer, W.Va.

"We are training everyday, so we can prepare to set sail and take the lead as America's newest submarine."

The 7,800-ton Missouri is being built under a teaming arrangement between General Dynamics Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding Newport News.

Missouri is designed with a nuclear reactor plant that will not require refueling during the planned life of the ship, reducing lifecycle costs while increasing underway time.

Among the many improved comforts for the crew is the submarine's galley. Redesigned for the Virginia-class, the galley is four-times larger than that of the Los Angeles and Seawolf-class submarines.

Culinary Specialist Seaman Paul Hites understands the importance of great food for the crew.

"Being a cook on a sub is a big deal. Preparing good food helps keep the crew's morale up," said Hites.

"It really is an important job that I take pride in."

The Virginia-class of submarines is tailored to excel in a wide range of warfighting missions. These include anti-submarine and surface ship warfare; special operation forces; strike; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; carrier and expeditionary strike group support; and mine warfare.

Also in Virginia-class boats, traditional periscopes have been supplanted by two photonics masts that house color, high-resolution black and white and infrared digital cameras atop telescoping arms.

Missouri will be the seventh Virginia-class submarine delivered to the Navy when she is commissioned July 31 at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton.

Missouri is the fifth Navy ship to be named in honor of the state of Missouri.

The last USS Missouri, the legendary battleship, saw action in World War II, the Korean War and the Persian Gulf War, and the battleship was also the site where Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and many other U.S. and Allied officers accepted the unconditional surrender the Japanese at the end of World War II Sept. 2, 1945.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Monday is turning into a day to re-form leftovers into a new dish at work. I often use them to make soup. Rice, pasta and vegetables are the most common leftovers from the weekend.

Yesterday morning I took a quart of spicy chili beans and pureed the beans with about two cups of scalloped potatoes. To finish the soup, I added a diced tomato to the puree and built the soup up with a quart of chicken stock.

The residents enjoyed a smooth, slightly thick bean soup for lunch. I garnished the spicy soup with finely shredded cheddar cheese.

Several residents added crushed corn chips for extra flavor. "The soup is so good," exclaimed one resident.

My goal when using leftovers is to re-form them into a new dish. Dishes like the soup give a new purpose to the leftovers. I often use leftovers to create something that the residents will enjoy.

By skillfully using leftovers with a bit of forethought, I keep the bottom line under control. It's difficult to forecast the exact amount of food that the residents will eat at any one meal.

The number of residents on self-imposed diets, individual likes and dislikes and residents on passes influence the amount of leftover food. I try to prepare according to the number of residents that will eat a particular menu item.

Fortunately, I'm rarely faced with excessive leftovers. Experience helps me keep it under control.

Back to the galley

I found from personal experience that it's difficult to leave the galley behind when you change direction in your career.

DES MOINES, Iowa (April 19, 2010) -- Chief Navy Counselor Joseph Kacinski, assigned to Navy Recruiting District Minneapolis, shows students at the Central Campus High School culinary arts program how to make pineapple-mango salsa. Kacinski spent more than 10 years as a Mess Management Specialist aboard fast-attack and Trident missile submarines before changing rates to Navy Counselor.

Kacinski visited the school during Des Moines Navy Week, one of 20 Navy Weeks planned across America in 2010. Navy Weeks are designed to show Americans the investment they have made in their Navy, and to increase awareness in cities that do not have a significant Navy presence.

U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Michael Sheehan.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A year in perspective

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that" (James 4:13-15)
At this time last year, my post-retirement career was coming together. I had just finished completed a food safety manager course. And my first summer job since high school was in the bag.

From the perspective of a new retiree with a lucrative 24-hour per week job in Sacramento, life couldn't have been better.

I was about to fulfil my life-long dream of working at a summer camp. Working part-time for my old employer would sustain me during the year. Then in early June I'd head for the high country and run the camp kitchen for the summer.

But as often happens in life, factors outside your personal control shape your life and career. In my case, it was the state's budget crisis that blew my plans apart -- ironic for a former budget analyst.

In the end, God blessed me with a comfortable job, one where I practice my craft of cooking each day without the worries of management - as I did for over 11 years -- or the eye poppin' experience of gazing at Excel spreadsheets all day.

While I had to give up my 24-hour workweek, I am doing something that I love -- cooking. I'll delay my return to the camp kitchen by two or three years. The time will go quickly because I'm doing something that I love.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Florida culinary students learn operations at Navy galley

The challenge faced by all culinary students is to translate what they've learned in the laboratory into real world experience. Exterships, and field trips such as this one, help students understand that life in the culinary world consists of more than cooking.

By Kaylee LaRocque, Naval Air Station Jacksonville Public Affairs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (NNS) -- The Naval Air Station Jacksonville Flight Line Café hosted 70 culinary arts students from Ridgeview High School in Orange Park, Fla., March 26.

The students visited the facility to learn about the management of a large galley and to witness the day-to-day operations involved in promptly serving hundreds of patrons.

"The first thing we did was explain how we receive our supplies and show them a dry storeroom to see how every box is marked up, categorized and how the product is entered into a controlled inventory from beginning to end," said Senior Chief Culinary Specialist (SS/SW) Bryon French, leading chief petty officer at the Flight Line Café galley.

"Then we showed them the automation of our records and expenditures, who takes charge of all the items that come through and how decisions are made in the day-to-day operations."

The students then made their way through the prep areas to see how the food is prepared each day and the "breakout boxes" used as a control process for refrigerated items like meats and dairy products.

As the students rotated through helping Navy culinary specialists serve hungry lunch patrons, other students happily enjoyed some tasty "Bubba" burgers.

Once the lunch meal was over, the next stop was the pastry shop where they learned what it was like to make quality deserts in mass quantities.

"It's awesome being here today. I'm not a military kid so I've never been on a base before and to find out what goes on in a military kitchen was extremely interesting to me," stated Briana White, a senior at Ridgeview High School.

"It's big difference from what we do. We only cook for about 50 teachers and they cook in much bigger volumes here."

"We came here today because my students needed to learn about food service management relating to inventory. So instead of covering this in the classroom, we thought it would be a great idea to bring them to a large operation so they would take back more knowledge after seeing it firsthand," said Amy Markey, culinary chef and instructor at Ridgeview High School.

"I think this is great to show them the possibilities available to them and options they have outside of school."

"These types of visits are extremely beneficial to us and the school because it provides awareness on both sides," said French.

"We show them the internal side of our organization. Most of these kids work in the culinary arts field at their school and can relate to what we do. And, by hosting them, hopefully some of them will join the Navy and become culinary specialists."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Chief petty officers serve sailors at Norfolk galley

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Scott Pittman, Navy Public Affairs Support Element, Detachment East

NORFOLK, Va (NNS) -- Members from the local chief petty officer mess gathered to serve Sailors at the galley at Naval Station Norfolk March 29.

The event was one of several during the week to celebrate the 117th birthday of the rate of chief petty officer in the United States Navy.

"I helped coordinate this event and it was no problem to find volunteers," said Chief Aviation Machinist's Mate Kenneth Vereen.

According to Vereen, approximately 30 chief petty officers volunteered.

"It's a great feeling and a good opportunity to give back to Sailors," said Chief Culinary Specialist Christopher Bailey. "It's a tribute to our Sailors. It's in recognition of their efforts because without them, we wouldn't be able to do a chief's job."

Sailors eating at the galley were glad to see the chief's mess willing to work to feed their shipmates.

"It lets me know they get their hands dirty just like the rest of us," said Aviation Electrician's Mate 2nd Class James Carter from squadron HM-14 Vanguard.

There are several events lined up for the week including an "Ask the Chief" all hands call, The Goat Locker Challenge and the Chief Petty Officer Birthday Lunch April 1.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Richard J. Stevens.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Trimming the budget

At my place of employment, the kitchen is allotted a set budget each month. With just over $5 per resident per day, the money must cover food purchases, along with paperware and smallware purchases.

When I overspend in one area, I must adjust the budget in other areas in order to stay within must allotted funds for the month. It doesn't matter if the excessive spending is due to my mismanagement or for a special function. I still have to keep my spending under control.

As of last Friday, I was about $250 in deficit after purchasing food for a special Easter event. That means that I would spend about $250 oven my anticipated expenditures for April if I didn't compensate elsewhere.

Although I may be able to justify the extra expense, I instead elected to adjust the budget for each of the four remaining weeks in April, as follows:
  • Cut $60 from a planned purchase at a local big box store
  • Reduce the weekly Smart and Final shopping trip by $25, for a total of $100
  • Reduce the second semi-monthly Sysco drop by $100
I may have to forgo my planned shopping trip to the local restaurant supply store this month. Either way, I'll wait until the end of the month. I'll have a better view of the fiscal picture by then.