Written by Lt. Erin Chlum and Ms. Kara McElroy
As the Coast Guard’s second highest ranking officer, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger is accustomed to giving commands. However, during an annual culinary showdown at Training Center Petaluma, California, roles were reversed as he followed the commands of Petty Officer 1st Class Lauren Foley, a Food Service Specialist “A” School instructor, and Seaman Rebeckah Kean, a Food Service Specialist “A” School student.
Vice Adm. Neffenger, part of Team Portside, took on Vice Adm. Charles Ray, Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander, and Team Starboard Side, which included Chief Petty Officer Michael Lynch, a Food Service Specialist “A” School instructor, and Seaman Robert Moore, a Food Service Specialist “A” School student.
Each team had 90 minutes to prepare a three-course meal from a box of mystery ingredients. The mystery ingredients, items that all had to be incorporated, included shredded coconut, Point Reyes blue cheese, red beets, persimmons, canned pumpkin, fresh sugar cane and wild mushrooms. The teams also had access to numerous pantry items of spices, seasonings, starches, herbs and stock bases to assist them in their preparation.
The competition took place in Training Center Petaluma’s demonstration kitchen, which is utilized during the first four weeks of “A” school training as students learn the basics of kitchen safety, sanitation, cooking methods, knife cuts and how to prepare a wide variety of foods. The state-of-the-art facility has five cameras and features three 32-inch monitors, enabling the instructors to display various techniques and practices on a television that is capable of zooming in to highlight precise movements. This set up allows the students an up-close view of each of the instructor’s maneuvers, making it easy to follow along with each step of the lesson. This also allowed audience members to see the action of the competition and witness the lighthearted banter between the flag officers. Vice Adm. Neffenger at one point looked up from a pot of simmering quinoa to remind Vice Adm. Ray that “he was going down.”
At the end of the 90-minute cook time, teams were judged by a panel of Coast Guard food service specialists and Steve Garner, co-host of the “Good Food Hour” on KRSO 103.5 FM. The judges determined the winner based on presentation, portion, nutritional balance, menu and ingredient compatibility, creativity, flavor and teamwork. In all three meetings of the cook off, east coast admirals have claimed victory. While Vice Adm. Ray and Team Starboard Side had high hopes of galley dominance with their succulent roast duck and pumpkin mashed potatoes, Vice Adm. Neffenger and Team Portside inched in a win with melt-in-your mouth beef tenderloin.
The cook off was not only good morale for the crew, but it also shined a light on Coast Guard food service specialists.
“It was a privilege to wear the chef uniform today, this has been a truly humbling experience,” said Vice Adm. Neffenger. “Without the hard working FSs who ensure our crews have nutritious meals, the Coast Guard could not execute our missions.”
Coast Guard Food Specialist “A” School at Training Center Petaluma trains about 120 new professional culinarians each year. Coast Guards men and women who graduate from the program serve at a variety of afloat and ashore units; however, aside from being culinarians, they are also routinely called upon to serve as law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians and damage control personnel.
“We ask a lot of these guys and gals, and it’s really neat to see the level of training required to become a food service specialist,” said Vice Adm. Ray. “The morale and wellbeing of the Coast Guard is in their hands; that’s an awesome responsibility.”
Coast Guard men and women at Food Service Specialist “A” School must absorb a massive amount of knowledge throughout the 13-week program, which draws from the strong culinary culture in Sonoma County, Calif., and encourages student to express their creativity through different food courses. For more information about becoming a Coast Guard food service specialist, please visit the Coast Guard Recruting webpage.