While most of Fort Irwin Soldiers were chilling out on the Veterans Day holiday weekend, maybe with some backyard grilling and football watching, eight National Training Center Soldiers got in closer to some action in the heart of Las Vegas, at the 13th Annual Military Hospitality Alliance Military Culinary Competition.
Eight culinary specialists from the 11th Cavalry Regiment and the 916th Support Brigade, together with four mentors and advisors from Fort Irwin, headed out on that holiday evening to check into Tropicana Las Vegas for the competition the following morning.
The competition, held in previous years on the East Coast, was held for the first time in Las Vegas, according to CW3 Joey Espanola, Senior Food Advisor for the NTC. He learned of the change of venue from his long association with the Military Hospitality Alliance. Espanola thought it would be a good training opportunity for some junior culinary specialists to get some competition under their belts while learning from some of the best chefs in Las Vegas, now a mecca for fine dining. Chef Robert Irvine, renowned host of the TV show, “Restaurant Impossible,” who will be opening a restaurant at the Tropicana Las Vegas early next year, served as master host for the competition.
For the Las Vegas meet, two 4-person teams competed against six other teams representing reservists, sailors and military veterans during the day-long event. While the Fort Irwin teams did not advance to the finals, Espanola commented, “It was great competition and good training for the Soldiers, especially for first time competitors to show their skills. It’s also good training in preparation for the annual Military Culinary Arts competition at Fort Lee next March.”
SSG Carolyn Bobbs, one of the team captains, said that mystery basket format involved using all the ingredients in mystery basket, filled with different types of meats, vegetables and starches, and using them to prepare a full course dinner.
“It was a good learning experience,” said SPC Molly Pierre. “It was fun but was really intense. It was my first competition. I got a lot of good notes, how to make our plates better the next time. For example, heating our plates, making sure our plates are clean. We got pointers on our cooking as well.”
Members of the two NTC teams were:
Team 1: SPC Jose Perez, PVT Corvynne Mikell, PFC Class Bradly Cousino, and SPC Rodney Dotson. They presented the judges with bacon-wrapped jalapeno peppers, potato soup, port cordon bleu with bacon, ginger beer-infused fruit salad on white cake, mashed potatoes, cauliflower rice, and tomato, zucchini basil blend.
Team 2: SSG Carolyn Bobbs, SGT Patricia Lynn Blair, SPC Felicity Hill, and SPC Molly Pierre. Their menu for the day were: cucumber pumpernickel bread with garlic cream cheese spread; poached apple and beer-infused currant walnut salad; orange ginger beer pork in banana leaves; mashed cauliflower potato with garlic chilies; and horchata rum flaxseed cupcake with candied bacon in caramel sauce.