RED SEA – The aroma of garlic, sautéed onions and peppers, paprika and freshly squeezed lemons permeated the atmosphere in the galley aboard amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), Nov. 16.
Several teams of Navy and Marine Corps food service specialists scurried about artistically piecing together creative entrees within the allotted hour and judging for the ship’s first “Iron Chef” competition was underway.
Makin Island’s food service specialists were challenged to prepare an entrée including the secret ingredient of chicken breasts, which was revealed at the start of the competition, and two side-dishes of their choice to be judged by the ship’s senior chain of command.
“We wanted to do something different and fun for our culinary specialists,” said Chief Culinary Specialist (SW/AW) Maria Sardono, Makin Island’s food service division leading chief petty officer. “We know they are creative but don’t get the opportunity very often to showcase their talents in day to day operations.”
Sailors and Marines divided into five teams and decided on themes and recipes to present for the competition.
Makin Island Sailors Culinary Specialist 3rd Class (SW) Juan Villareal, from Torrance, California, and Culinary Specialist 3rd Class (SW) Andrea Buckhamjack, a native of New York City, teamed up and decided on a theme of “Bon Appétit.” Together they prepared a series of three dishes, each including a recipe from a different part of the world.
“Our first dish is a Latin flavor called Lomo Sadado,” said Villareal as he and Buckhamjack scrambled to finish preparing their creations in time. “The second dish is Chinese chicken lettuce wraps and our third is Hawaiian flavored coconut shrimp tempura.”
Buckhamjack explained their theme and choices for recipes.
“Bon appétit is French for ‘enjoy your meal,’” said Buckhamjack. "I love the diversity in cooking different foods and tasting different recipes."
Lance Cpl. William Banks, assigned to the embarked Battalion Landing Team 21, shared his opinion of the competition as he and two other Marines prepped their Italian chicken themed entrée.
“This is judgment day for me,” said Banks with a smile. “I’m tired of other cooks onboard thinking they can cook better than me and it’s time to prove I’m the best.”
Banks’ team member Cpl. Mark Caballero, assigned to the embarked Battalion Landing Team, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, also shared his thoughts.
“The competition highlights people’s talents and brings us all together to prepare foods, which is something we all like to do,” said Caballero.
Cajun chicken was the recipe Culinary Specialist Seaman Stephen Williams and his team decided on. As they went about sprinkling seasonings and preparing side-dish vegetables, Williams said he was looking forward to seeing what each of the teams would bring to the table.
“It’s not only a competition,” said Williams. “I look at it as a chance to learn new techniques and recipes as well as how others plate and garnish their entrées.”
As time expired, the teams gave their entrées final garnishing touches and presented to the awaiting judges; Makin Island’s Commanding Officer Capt. Alvin Holsey, Executive Officer Capt. Jon Rodgers, Command Master Chief Thomas Moore, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Sgt. Maj. Troy Black, and Makin Island Sailor of the Year Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) 1st Class David Dysart.
Judges graded the teams on taste, presentation, and creativity.
“The food was delicious,” said Holsey. “It was a great job by all, and I am very proud of all the teams.”
As the event concluded, the competition winners were announced and presented with first, second, and third place wooden engraved plaques. First place was earned by Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Juan Villareal and Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Andrea Buckhamjack. Second place was awarded to Cpl. Andrelous Lockett, Cpl. Mark Caballero, and Lance Cpl. William Banks, from the embarked 11th MEU. Third place winners were Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Eric Kapfhamer, Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Simon Riley, and Culinary Specialist Seaman Aaron Simon.
Command Master Chief Moore gave his remarks about the overall benefit of the competition.
“These competitions are great,” said Moore. “Any competition onboard this ship where Sailors and Marines have the opportunity to win awards for showcasing their talents is always a great thing for morale.”
Culinary specialists aboard Makin Island help ensure proper nutrition for a crew of more than 2,300 Sailors and Marines through serving approximately 7,000 meals a day.
The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and the embarked 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) are deployed in support of maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.