MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
The gleaming stainless steel countertops shined brightly under the florescent lights. The kitchen buzzed with activity. One cook cut out biscuits while another fried pork chops. The head cook checked food temperatures, inspected portions and, most importantly, told his staff to keep their eyes on the time.
From the inside, the kitchen looked like any other restaurant. From the outside, the kitchen was a camouflaged tent out in the field. This was not the place most would expect to find a cooking competition.
Marines from 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, represented 2nd Marine Division in the Maj. Gen. W. P. T. Hill Memorial Award for Food Service competition here Oct. 17.
The division representatives competed against field messes representing 1st Marine Logistics Group, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., and 3rd Marine Logistics Group, Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Okinawa, Japan.
The winner of the Marine Corps-wide title will receive a trophy and a ceremony sponsored by the National Restaurant Association.
Burton ‘Skip’ Sack, a Marine veteran who is the former chairman and a current board member of the National Restaurant Association, said he was excited to be one of the judges for the competition.
“I was stationed here when I was in the Corps in 1955 until 1958,” Sack said. “For me, it’s a great experience to be back with Marines and back where I was stationed 50 plus years ago.”
Sack’s Marine background combined with his professional restaurant experience gave him a better insight on how to judge the field mess.
“There is not much difference between the food in a field mess and commercial restaurant,” Sack said. “The food presentation and cleanliness are the same. It is just harder to do in a field environment.”
The judges evaluated the field mess on multiple levels including site preparation, security and food presentation. The judges also spoke with the Marines dining in the facility to get their opinion of the field mess.
“I make sure to talk with the Marines in the chow hall and ask what was good and what they liked and disliked,” Sack said. “I also ask how courteous the Marines were while serving the food.”
Sgt. Hernan Paredes, chief cook with the battalion, said he believes the competition went well for division.
“I think everything was pretty smooth,” Paredes said. “We started at the right time, everything was cooked at the right time, and the line was set up at the right time. The whole mess hall was set by the time I asked for it.”
Paredes added he believes they have a good chance of winning the competition. He attributed the flawless operation to time management.
“The way I planned it was to cook half of the food and put it on the line,” Paredes said. “I then progressively keep cooking, that way when I look at my clock and see it is 12:30 p.m., I can stop cooking. You have to manage your time.”
Paredes said he believes division’s competitors will have to work hard to win the competition, but they cannot celebrate yet. The two other competitors have not been judged yet. The judges are heading to the West Coast next week and will continue judging overseas after Thanksgiving. The results are expected in December.
“We really set the bar,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jeffery Chenault, the field mess staff noncommissioned officer in charge with the battalion. “Everyone else now has to compete to our standard.”