By T. Anthony Bell
FORT LEE, Va. (March, 2013) — Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Derrick Davenport remembers the bitter taste of defeat during last year’s Culinary Olympics in Germany.
“They beat us up pretty bad over there,” he said of the German team, “but it’s good to reclaim victory on the home front.”
The come-back came in the form of a gold medal and first place in the international category, held March 6, during the 38th Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event that concludes here Friday. The live-cooking event included teams from Germany, Canada and France. A team from Colombia was a no-show for the competition.
Davenport and Sgt. Sarah Deckert, both members of the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team, won by less than a point over the Germans, who also earned a gold medal. The Canadians took home a silver medal as well as the French team.
Quartermaster General Col. John E. O’Neil IV presented the medals. He thanked the participants for sharing their competencies and “teaching us all what right looks like in the culinary arts world.”
Davenport, fresh from a win in the Armed Forces Chef of the Year event held the day before, said the international event is prestigious because it stands alone as a category, but it is not much different than any other culinary contest.
“It’s still cooking,” he said. “Everyone has their own style that is significant to their culture, so we try to bring American regional cuisine and present it in a way that the judges can recognize, showcasing what we do.”
The competition was built around what is commonly known as a mystery basket, culinary lingo for menu items that are only revealed just moments before the contest start. Deckert said mystery baskets present elements of the unknown to competitors, forcing them to make do with what is available.
“It really challenges your natural cooking ability,” she said.
Competitors were required to formulate a four-course meal using the mystery basket items — in this case rack of lamb, pheasant, red snapper, scallops, a variety of fruits and vegetables, and rice.
“We had to use every ingredient somewhere in the four-course,” said Deckert. “It really was a challenge.”
When the allotted time of four hours had elapsed, the U.S. team had whipped up courses that included roasted lamb with risotto and caramelized onion and parsnip soup. Deckert said it helped to have spent some time together on the USACAT.
“It was our first time competing together,” she said, “so for me, it was a really great opportunity to do a mystery basket with someone so talented. It was a really great experience to see what we could produce. It was a lot of fun.”
The international category is only in its second year of existence. Many of the participants were enthused about this year’s event and said they gained much from it.
Second year participant Cpl. Jean-Louis Lassonde of the Canadian Army said the competition was anything but predictable.
“We knew a bit more of what to expect,” he said. “We knew the rules (a change from last year). The challenge was harder this year. There were things that we never saw before, but it was fun. It’s fun to come back. It’s icing on the cake for us.”
Stafford DeCambra, the head judge in the competition, said the international category has growth written all over it because of the reciprocal learning aspects and public interest.
“The competitors will learn from the other countries,” he said, “what it is, how it is, what they’re used to, why they use certain products; and the guests will say, ‘Wow, I never thought of doing this or that. That’s really cool. I’ve got to try that. I wonder what it tastes like.’ It puts a lot of excitement in all of this.”
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