ARABIAN SEA (NNS) -- Flattened pieces of chicken are prepared on the counter, ready to be transformed. All of the prep work is about to be done. The chicken is rolled around cream cheese and herbs are added to give it that extra kick. After being boiled, the smells from the ingredients start to mingle in the air.
The creation sits overnight and is roasted in the oven the following day. The chicken bouillon is sliced and presented handsomely on a platter to the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), complimented with sweet rhubarb pie for desert.
The experience of creating something new with the freedom and creativity of being in the kitchen, with nothing but the ideas of what to create, is what attracts Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Justin C. Wollam, from Vidor, Texas, to the art of cooking.
As the commanding officer's personal cook, Wollam has the opportunity to prepare cuisine on a more personal level than the rest of the cooks aboard Nimitz.
"Since I am only cooking for one person rather than 5,000, I have a little bit more flexibility with what I can make, so it helps me expand my cooking," said Wollam.
Being the only cook in the kitchen and cooking for one person amounts to ample opportunities to experiment with creating culinary masterpieces.
"CS3 [Wollam] is fearless in the kitchen," said Capt. Kevin P. Lenox, Nimitz's commanding officer. "I have never seen him back away from a challenge."
During his time in the kitchen, Wollam has been able to not only learn how to cook, but also to really enjoy it.
"I have been trying my hardest to learn how to make things from scratch; legitimately from scratch," Wollam said. "Baking bread has been one of the most fun things I made because once you learn how, working with the dough is very fun."
Fire Controlman 3rd Class Rosalis M. Gonzales, Wollam's food service assistant, from Pinehill, New Jersey, who's been helping for more than a month in the kitchen, notices Wollam's desire to create masterpieces.
"He's pretty into cooking and I can tell he is proud when he makes something new," said Gonzales. "He is passionate about cooking, not only because it's his job, but because he clearly loves to create food."
One perk of cooking for the commanding officer is that Wollam has the chance to cook for the distinguished visitors (DV) who come aboard to see what life on an aircraft carrier is like. The first stop on every DV visit after coming aboard Nimitz is always the in-port cabin, where they get to taste Wollam's delicacies.
"Sometimes there are 20 to 25 DVs at a time, all from different places," said Wollam. "It's nice to have a group of people who don't normally eat on an aircraft carrier try my food and enjoy it, especially with some of the difficulties of potential food restrictions associated with the visitors."
With Nimitz operating in foreign waters, some of the DVs who come aboard have certain food restrictions due to religious and cultural aspects.
"CS3 is very creative and resourceful," said Lenox. "When he needed to come up with a last minute dessert for a DV lunch, he grabbed a bunch of dragon fruit and mangos, split the dragon fruit in half, cleaned it out and then refilled it with sliced mango and dragon fruit drizzled with honey. It was simple, visually appealing, and delicious. Everyone at the table was very impressed."
Everything Wollam creates is a new experience for him. Since he is not sure what supplies he may have on any given day, he gets to add his own spin on each meal because of regional varieties in fruits and vegetables, such as dragon fruit or star fruit, while operating in different parts of the world.
"Every dish I make is something I have not made before," said Wollam. "Every day is like an episode of 'Chopped' and I have to make something with what I have, or I have to gather what I can from downstairs in the other galleys."
The liberties granted by being the sole cook for the commanding officer allow Wollam opportunities many other culinary specialists may not have when it comes to expanding their horizon in the kitchen. His desire and love of cooking continues to grow as he gets to experiment and prepare meals on a day-to-day basis in the CO's galley.
The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is on a regularly scheduled deployment in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts.
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