Food service Marines with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron showcased their talents in a cook-off to earn the title of Food Service Specialist of the Quarter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, July 13, 2017.
The event prepared Marines for a larger competition July 26-27 in Okinawa against other Marines in Japan. The competition also permitted the Marines to go beyond traditional Marine Corps recipes.
“We don’t have a lot of opportunities to be creative with what we cook at the chow hall,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Erika Vargas, winner of Food Service Specialist of the Quarter. “People think we don’t use seasonings or flavors in our food, and this is one of those days where I can prove them wrong.”
Marines were given a mystery basket of fresh basil and cilantro, watermelon, quinoa, raspberries and molasses. Each chef had to incorporate each ingredient in their dishes.
Though taste was a huge part of the competition, every Marine working at the mess hall had to take a knowledge test to qualify for and participate in the competition. The three highest scoring Marines were chosen as the contestants.
“Our knowledge test was 15 percent of our score,” said Vargas. “The oral and uniform boards were another 15 percent each, sanitation was 20 percent, and overall taste and execution was 35.”
Vargas also said the judges assessed the table and food presentation.
Competitors are expected to perform with the same professionalism during their next competition.
“In Okinawa, they will start with the same premises as here,” said Chief Warrant Officer Edwin C. Bates, a food service officer with H&HS. “They will have written and oral evaluation boards. You have to pass those to move on to the next level. Once they move to the final level then they get to cook a meal. If I send three Marines, it’s not always a guarantee that all three will make it to the last level, but I hope they do well and outperform other people.”
The achievement of Food Service Specialist of the Quarter sets a Marine apart from their coworkers by displaying their hard work and devotion to their job.
“You’re observed in a way that gives you an opportunity to show you hold yourself to a higher standard,” said Vargas. “To me, it means that I’m finally getting somewhere in the dream job that I’ve always wanted to do. I felt like it was a little out of my league, but I worked hard and it showed.”