Culinary Specialists 3rd Class Eric Nava, left, 2nd Class Nelson Malaxi (middle), and 3rd Class Manuelito Belocura  

Thailand - Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Eric Nava, left, Culinary 2nd Class Nelson Malaxi, middle, and Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Manuelito Belocura pose for a photo before an Iron Chef competition aboard U.S. 7th Fleet flag ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19). The winning trio will compete against a Thai chef during a televised Iron Chef competition in Bangkok. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Fidel C. Hart)
Blue Ridge chefs defend Iron Chef title 
By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mel Orr 
USS BLUE RIDGE - Culinary specialists aboard U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) competed in a cooking contest on May 20, 2012, for the opportunity to compete in an upcoming “Iron Chef” cooking competition filmed in Bangkok, Thailand.

The contest aboard Blue Ridge was organized by Chief Warrant Officer Brian Ware, the “Chow Boss,” to determine the best to serve as sous chefs to Culinary Specialist 1st Class Frank Medina.

The U.S. Thailand Embassy requested for sailors from the ship to appear on an “Iron Chef” program in Bangkok during the ship's visit to Thailand. Because Blue Ridge sailors have previously competed and won cooking competitions in Vladivostok, Russia in 2010 and Sepangar, Malaysia in 2011, Ware knew that his team would be up for the challenge.

“I could only send three CS's [culinary specialists] but have over 100 CS's aboard,” Ware said. “The only way to make it fair was to hold a competition for all E-5 and above CS's to compete against each other aboard the ship in three-person teams.”

The ship-wide contest was held on the enlisted mess decks and featured three-sailor team challengers from the enlisted galley, chief's mess, flag mess and wardroom. Their dishes, with the secret ingredient of pineapple, were presented to a 12-judge panel representing different departments from U.S. Seventh Fleet staff and crew of USS Blue Ridge to earn the opportunity to compete in the Iron Chef competition.

“Judging the Iron Chef was a bucket list item for me,” said the Blue Ridge Administration Leading Chief Petty Officer Senior Chief Steven Borba, one of the 12 judges. “I regularly watch “Iron Chef” on Food Network and thought it would be fun to be part of that and give feedback. Everything tasted good and was well presented, but the “White House” team was amazing with the appetizer, main dish and dessert and hit everything right on the mark.”

The winners of the competition were Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Nelson Malaxi, Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Manuelito Belocura, and Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Eric Nava. All three were granted 72 hours of special liberty and Malaxi and Belocura will join Ware and Medina for the competition in Bangkok.

The competition will be headlined by a visit from Thai media who will interview the culinary specialists and video tape cooking demonstrations aboard the ship. The main competition will feature the secret ingredient of either lamb or live octopus and the cooking team will have to prepare four recipes for the selected ingredient.

“Glenn Marine [global husbanding agent for the U.S. Navy] is working on getting live octopuses for us so our chefs can practice because live octopus is something we don't normally cook,” Ware said with a laugh.

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