With contributions by Cmdr. Christopher O’Neil, chief of media relations.
More than 300 of the military’s finest chefs gathered together last week to slice, dice, bake, sear, sautée and serve their best in the 37th Annual Military Culinary Arts Competition.
The duo of Petty Officer 1st Class Edward Fuchs and Chief Petty Officer Jason Stagnitto won the nutritional hot food challenge, Fuchs placed second in the chef of the year competition and the Coast Guard team – comprised of 16 food service specialists – earned a judges special award, placing fourth overall.
Fuchs, this year’s team captain, has competed with the culinary team since 2007. He was in culinary school when he first thought about joining the Coast Guard and two years later made the choice to serve, missing his culinary school graduation to enlist.
He soon found himself cooking aboard Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw where he learned how to adapt to limited space and unpredictable ship’s movement – skills he says make him a better chef and culinary competitor.
“You don’t have an eye on the horizon so you never know when the ship is going to take a hard roll,” said Fuchs. “Everything is unexpected so you aren’t just worrying about things burning you’re also worrying about things flying out of the pan.”
Another skill the chefs bring to the cutting board is adaptability. Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Pearl used to serve as a sonar technician in the Navy but after seeing Coast Guardsmen aboard their patrol boat as he lay topside of his submarine one day, he decided to change services. Pearl now serves aboard Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf where he knows at a moments notice everything he has planned could change.
“You may have your menu planned a week ahead of time, cooking for 120 people but everything can change because of ship operations,” said Pearl. “Whether it’s a drill or search and rescue case, you constantly have to adjust what you are cooking and when you are cooking.”
The chefs’ ability to adapt and expect the unexpected played right into the nutritional hot food challenge, which required competitors to create nutritional dishes within 90 minutes, using items from the pantry as well as five items found in a “mystery basket.”
After working closely with the team, Fuchs was on his own against Army Sgt. Maj. David Turcotte, vying for the title of Military Chef of the Year – or what Fuchs calls “a beast of a competition.”
“It’s a four-hour, mystery basket event. You get one apprentice, one shelf in a reefer, eight burners and eight feet of table space to serve four courses, four times,” said Fuchs.
In the end both Turcotte and Fuchs earned silver medals in a tight competition with Fuchs missing the chef of the year title by one hundredth of a point. Altogether the Coast Guard team took home four gold and three silver medals. But for most of the chefs, it wasn’t about the medal; it was about the experience.
“The competition is a great platform that’s not just for a proficient chef,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Rohrs, currently assigned aboard Coast Guard Cutter Eagle. “It’s really a great learning environment for everybody and a great training opportunity.”
The chefs also know they can’t keep their successes to themselves. With food service specialists aboard every Coast Guard cutter – from harbor tugs to polar icebreakers – and just about every duty station there is, they are eager to share their talents.
“It’s selfish not to bring what we learn back out to our duty stations,” said Fuchs. “We are the most sea-going rate in the Coast Guard and look forward to sharing our skills with the fleet.”
Members of the 2012 Coast Guard team include:
Chief Petty Officer Jason Stagnitto, team manager, 7th Coast Guard District
Petty Officer 1st Class Ed Fuchs, team captain, Department of Homeland Security Executive Dining facility
Petty Officer 1st Class Katie Heitman, assistant team captain, Department of Homeland Security Executive Dining facility
Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Manfre, 5th Coast Guard District
Petty Officer 1st Class Derrick Dolan, Coast Guard Cutter Cheyenne
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Rohrs, Coast Guard Cutter Eagle
Petty Officer 2nd Class Clark Lauer, Coast Guard Cutter Bonito
Petty Officer 2nd Class David Blonn, Coast Guard Cutter Forward
Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Masi, Coast Guard Cutter Blue Shark
Petty Officer 2nd Class Ivana Juhas, Coast Guard Cutter Kittiwake
Petty Officer 2nd Class Noel Gray, Coast Guard Cutter Maui
Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Pearl, Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf
Petty Officer 2nd Class John Jeffries, Coast Guard Cutter Elm
Petty Officer 2nd Class Mason Champlin, Coast Guard Station Grand Haven
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason Kellogg, Coast Guard Station Sand Key
Petty Officer 3rd Class Karla Reynoso, Coast Guard Cutter Theits