1/10th cooks turn up heat during Army competition

Competition can bring out the best in Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. Whether it is an intramural sport setting to claim the title as the best basketball, softball or flag football team, or at the international level, there are plenty of examples of military personnel coming together as a team, striving to win.
It’s no different outside the sports arena.

For two days in December, Army cooks assigned to Headquarters Support Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), competed at the Army level to win the “Super Bowl” of Army food service — the Department of the Army Philip A. Connelly award.

With inspectors from the Department of the Army and the Army Center for Excellence-Subsistence from Fort Lee, Va., watching their every move, the food service specialists hustled throughout the kitchen, slicing vegetables, rolling dough, seasoning meat and placing the finishing touches on dishes to be served to the Stuttgart community at lunchtime.

“This team is dedicated,” said Sgt. 1st Class Javier Gonzalez, Panzer Dining Facility manager. “They are giving 120 percent of their dedication and pride in all areas of food service, whether it’s ensuring a nice dining environment, placing work orders, completing health inspections, ration ordering and control, or menu planning.”
Gonzalez supervises a staff of 11 Army cooks, including four food specialists from the 554th Military Police Company; one German cook and six civilian kitchen attendants. On average, the small dining team serves 150-175 customers five days a week — amounting to more than 700 meals per month, to include unit field feeding. 

Competing in the Connelly competition is a big deal to the cooks, as they have never finished in first place at the DA level. In 2008 they came close as runner-up in the Small Garrison category. As a result of winning first place in the Small Garrison category for Europe in 2010, the Panzer DFAC competed against six other small dining facilities throughout the rest of the Army.

Despite the team’s best effort, they fell short of their goal of being recognized as the Army’s best, remaining a finalist. But Gonzalez is still proud of their accomplishments, and especially the support and praise he gets from his chain of command and the Stuttgart community his cooks feed weekly.

“The impact we have towards our unit and community means a lot to each of us who cook here,” Gonzalez said. “When my guys respond to people asking where they work and what their job is, people say, ‘Oh, I hear that place has some great food!’”

A regular customer who eats at the Panzer Dining Facility, Spc. Samuel Denn, a military policeman assigned to the 554th Military Police Company, gave particular praise for the presentation and quality of the meals.

“I was stationed at another location in Germany before arriving here, and this dining facility is by far the most excellent place I’ve eaten,” Denn said. “The meals are always presented well and the food is great. I ate my Thanksgiving meal here and it made not being at home much better.”

Although the results were not what they wanted, the cooks recognize they are elite in what they do and they must start over again to be ready for next year’s Connelly competition. Gonzalez mentioned that the extraordinary support from his command, U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart and U.S. Army Europe enhanced the morale of his staff.

With that kind of support, he feels obligated to give back to the community and Soldiers they serve.

“We will be sending our cooks to the culinary arts schools and bringing them up to speed with additional skills found in the civilian culinary world,” Gonzalez said. “For next year’s Connelly competition, we will refurbish and renovate our dining facility with upgraded equipment and provide a better ambiance for diners.”
He added that the renovation will have a Special Operations-centric theme highlighting the unit’s heraldry.

“Our operators deserve a place to dine that will instill in them the warrior ethos,” Gonzalez said. “With these facility improvements and additional culinary skills, our team is confident we can compete for and win the DA Small Garrison Connelly competition in 2011.”

Philip A. Connelly, past president of the International Food Service Executives Association, was highly regarded as the driving force behind obtaining IFSEA sponsorship for the Department of the Army’s recognition of excellence in Army food service.