Monday, October 31, 2011
When Sgt. Arturo Torres joined the U.S. Marine Corps five years ago, he wanted to be an infantryman. After all, the Marines' reputation is largely built on the expertise of its infantry.
But the 18-year-old's mother didn't like the idea one bit - especially in wartime.
When Torres explained that to the recruiter in his hometown of Dallas, the recruiter made a suggestion: food service.
At first it didn't seem that exciting. But when Torres was deployed to Iraq three years ago and got to cook for then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, food service took on a whole new shine.
Air Force Senior Airman Ashleen Cacciatore thinks her last name might have had something to do with the reason she's now feeding 500 people a day at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, a joint military base in Trenton, N.J. The 26-year-old originally wanted an assignment in mental health but was sent to the kitchen. Now, getting told "35,000 times a day that Air Force food is so much better than any of the other armed forces' grub" has more than convinced her it was the right decision, she said.
Torres, Cacciatore and 23 other cooks from the Marines, Air Force and Air National Guard were selected by the Hennessy Travelers Association's Educational Foundation for the annual Armed Forces Forum for Culinary Excellence at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone campus in St. Helena.
For a week the military cooks hone their skills at the venerable chefs school, learning everything from chopping techniques to how to prepare healthful meals. And Hennessy, an association of volunteers from the food-service and hospitality industries that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars from private donors each year, is picking up the entire tab, said Carmen Vacalebre, a Connecticut restaurateur and president of the group.
The group's mission is to promote educational opportunities for members of the armed forces serving in hospitality as well as help military cafeterias run more efficiently and effectively. The organization also helps former military cooks pursue careers in food service in the civilian world.
"These 25 individuals chosen for the forum have been identified as the cream of the crop," said Jack Kleckner, a Hennessy group member.
The hope is that the young cooks will go back to their mess halls and motivate others with their food and proficiency, said Art Ritt, an officer with the association. "We're trying to teach them how to think out of the box," he said.
One day this week, they were learning how to tart up leftovers, with Greystone instructor Tom Wong showing them how to use up yesterday's tomatoes by making salsa.
"It's a chance of a lifetime," said Jamie Schoewe, a staff sergeant in the Air National Guard in Milwaukee who spends one weekend a month cooking for the troops. "I can take everything that I'm learning back and teach everyone else."
Schoewe, 24, said she requested her kitchen assignment, which sometimes involves cooking meals for as many as 1,200 troops a day.
"There's something about preparing a meal for the people around you," she said. "It's nurturing."
She got some kitchen training in the Air Force's technical school, "but it was nothing like this," she said about the courses she's attended at the Culinary Institute.
Read the rest of the story here.