Practice Makes Perfect

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FORT IRWIN, Calif. — Flaring with a menu of diverse tastes, smells, and textures, kitchens across the Armed Forces sizzle with creation around the clock in preparation for the ultimate competition, the Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event. The MCACTE is held in Fort Lee, Va., March 4th through the 9th, and has served as the largest culinary arts competition in North America since its establishment in 1973.

Service members come from all ends of the globe after months of preparing for this competition, with the expectation of victory.  The Soldiers are relentlessly training for the undertaking of this new goal as the National Training Center’s culinary arts team, the goal to demonstrate the expertise of our Soldiers while proudly representing the installation.

Team Irwin was established by the NTC only two years ago, pinning them as fresh meat in the competition. In comparison, the Soldiers will be allotted only three months of training as opposed to the availability of year-round training at other duty assignments. Few have experienced this sort of intense pressure, but Team Irwin is fortunate to have one who has tackled this highly competitive task before.

Spc. Rodney Dotson, a culinary arts specialist and team member, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, Regimental Support Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, competed with Fort Polk’s culinary arts team in 2014, and has been an integral piece of the proverbial pie for this year’s squad.

“Anybody can learn, anybody can get better and anybody can be better,” said Dotson, “I’m very confident with our team of professionals.”

Team Irwin is composed of five Soldiers, each with their own specialty in the galley. The categories in the competition include cold platters of meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, game, cold hors d’oeuvres, and eight varieties of tapas or finger foods.  The culinary artists must master their individual dishes to be fully prepared for the competition, and their NCO’s must be entirely confident in their capabilities.

In the NTC’s culinary arts laboratory, the kitchen was steaming with activity as Team Irwin works frantically against the clock to complete their dishes for serving. From a crispy Pistachio Crusted Red Snapper, to a tangy Honey Roasted Pine Nut Tartlet, all kinds of dishes filled the kitchen with a mouthwatering aroma.

In preparation for the competition, the team has had to prepare and serve a five course meal to their squadron, regiment and post command teams for evaluation, all within a designated time limit in order to meet the competition requirements.

These Soldiers must possess a positive attitude and a great deal of confidence in order to succeed in the competition, which can prove to be challenging and stressful, especially under a rapidly-eclipsing timer. With judges constantly looking over their shoulders, every mistake, flaw and inconsistency is a strike against them.

The Non-Commissioned Officers instructing Team Irwin work diligently to ensure their Soldiers have the proper training and knowledge to act as effective tools in the kitchen.

“We have the right guidance, NCO’s who’ll lead us in the right direction.” Said Spc. Daniela Marquez Lopez, a culinary arts specialist and team member, Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, RSS, 11th ACR.

More and more training is to be expected prior to the competition, with each member continuing to master their dishes.  It will require a tremendous amount of attention to detail along with discipline to achieve the desired results.  For the competition itself, the culinary team has a lot to focus on, and the time has come to represent the unit, the installation and the U.S. Army.

“It’s an honor to represent the National Training Center, and I hope to prove our worth out there” said Staff Sgt. Carolyn Bobbs, the culinary arts team leader.

With the competition in clear sight, Team Irwin remains steadfast and committed to claiming victory and showing that under any conditions, anyone in their craft can strive to be the best. The Soldiers of Team Irwin continue to train with unwavering determination, keen attention to detail, and the willingness to learn every aspect of their profession.