The message came out, you’re going to compete with fellow CSs and test yourself at the largest and toughest military culinary competition in North America. Now what? Welcome to the guide for the Coast Guard Culinary Team (CGCT) This document was created to answer many of the common questions that arise with the annual solicitation and team selection for the CGCT.
For the past few years, the Coast Guard has been able to pool enough money to send a minimally staffed culinary team to Ft. Lee, VA to compete at the Culinary Arts Competition against some of the best military services food service professionals from the other branches of the service. For the last two years, the CGCT has shown exceptional improvement and has won the whole competition. This is due, in a very large way, to the positive attitude, professional and technical culinary knowledge, and a belief in the Team Coast Guard philosophy, which all members typically display. This is made all the more remarkable given the severe disadvantage that the CGCT is at when compared to the funding and practice time that every other team competing at the competition receives. However, no amount of money or repetition can replace the desire, drive, and determination to succeed that the members of the CGCT exemplify. Before getting into the particulars of the team itself and the competition, there are a few points to mention:
• It is not a weeklong vacation in the historic Richmond, VA area. You will work for 20 full days doing different competitions, attending training classes, and practicing culinary techniques for starters.
• No, you do not have to have any prior competition experience. You also don’t have to have an advanced culinary degree either. While both of these help in preparation for the competition, they are not a prerequisite for being on the team. However, you must have a positive, team-oriented attitude and an open mind.
• Currently, the CGCT meets only once annually at the FT Lee competition. This is due to the budget and as most of you know, the Coast Guard has a limited one, and the second is the time commitment. It is hard for CSs, especially independent duty ones to be away from the galleys for multiple extended periods of time.
These are answers to some of the more common questions and concerns about the CGCT. The training, exposure to advanced culinary techniques, interaction with highly accomplished chefs from around the country/world, and an overall rich learning environment, is unlike any other opportunity for CSs in the Coast Guard. You will get out of the CGCT what you put into it.
You’ve Been Selected, What’s Next? Whether or not you have been exposed to a food service competition, there are some proactive steps that you can take to prepare yourself for the FT Lee experience.
As this is an ACF-sanctioned event review their competition rules and guidelines:
If you are a student chef read the ACF Student Manual
Next visit the FT Lee competition web page for Competition updates: https://quartermaster.army.mil/jccoe/special_programs_directorate/culinary_arts/culinary_arts_main.html
Lastly, please read and watch the successes of our team during the last 3 competition years:
2019 Student team of the year:
2020 Historic 1st Overall Gold for Team Coast Guard:
2022 Coast Guard Defends their Overall Title Wining Gold Two Years in a row:
Until all team members have arrived at FT Lee, communication of information such as flight and phone are critical. There will be a lot of information being sent with particular competition menus and recipes as well as determining who will compete in what events. The time leading up to the competition is also when you should reach out and ask questions on anything you are not certain of, want more information about, or just to speak to a team member who may have competed at FT Lee before. The better informed you are, the better prepared you will be.
It is understood that with Cutter schedules and operation commitments, communication can be difficult at times, but every effort should be made to contact team members and leaders. If you have favorite recipes or are comfortable working with a particular protein or cooking style, then let the team captain or manager know. Everyone that is on the team will compete in at least one competition and will very likely have multiple events. Much of this competition is rooted in French cooking techniques. French techniques and cooking terms will be out in full force for this competition, so it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with these terms or brush up on them. One of the best ways to become familiar with French cooking practices is to incorporate them into your daily galley meals. Using classical knife cuts with both proteins and especially vegetables and preparing proper mother sauces and their countless derivatives are just two of the ways to incorporate French techniques into your daily galley duties.
What To Bring? You will need several sets of white chef’s coats and black chefs pants and a unit ball cap. You will need a name tag if it is not already on your chefs coat. You will also need to wear your crows on your chefs coat and your cover. If you have a chef’s hat and want to use it, feel free, but for transiting from the parking lot to the lab or from the lab to the field house, you will need your unit ball cap. We will make a laundry run at least once to the local Laundromat, or as needed. There are laundering services at the hotel and can be used if available. All are coin-operated. On the FT Lee Army base, the chef’s uniform is considered salute-able, so you might want to familiarize yourself with the other services Officer ranks, especially the Army’s – Safety boots, or chef’s clogs/ black loafers, if you have them. – Civilian clothes. – You will also need your Bravo’s for the award ceremony, so make sure that it is good to go. There are dry cleaning services at FT Lee, but I suggest that you have it ready to go before arriving. – You may bring knives/specific cooking equipment if you want to. I suggest at least knives. FT Lee has a lot of items, but few specialty pieces (such as a pasta roller or immersion blender, for example) and their knives…get a lot of use. – You can also bring cookbooks or recipes if you would like, but there are a lot of resources there. We usually have a library of books in our lab for CG use.
What To Expect When You Arrive? From the time the competition starts until the awards ceremony, we will be in the lab daily. Yes, we will work on the various parts of the competition for the entire time, including the weekend. There will be a few days that are close to normal hours, but for the most part, expect to start around 0700 and finish at 1900. This schedule is not set in stone, it is merely an approximation. There will be long days, like the field competition and the final day of the cold food display will run for the better part of 24hrs. Since we are going for the installation of the year, we will compete in every category required. So while you will certainly work during your time in this competition, you will have ample opportunity to learn and develop new techniques and skills, see your peers compete, be very active in the overall team CG effort, and have several shots at winning multiple medals!
Also, so there are no misunderstandings, we are all responsible for the cleanliness and sanitation of our assigned labs. This also includes scullery duty as we are all the messcooks too. There are only a handful of competitions where scullery services are provided, but for the most part, we will wash and sanitize our own equipment, whether from practice or competition. All cleaning in the lab is up to every member of the team. This is an overview of the major points of the competition, but it is certainly not all-inclusive. The competition is a multi-faceted, two-week event. Details and particulars can and will be discussed with all team members after submission.
If there are still some questions of concerns about the FT Lee and CGCT experience, questions or comments can be directed to CSCS John Scott Jeffries (Email – John.Jeffries@dhs.gov) and he will answer your questions of put you in contact with someone who can.
Are You Ready? This is not an easy competition, but it is a very rewarding experience and you will certainly get out of it what you put into it. While FT Lee is the primary place where the CGCT competes, there are other opportunities throughout the year. Members of the CGCT were a part of the Commandant’s CoC, MCPOCGs Change of Watch and other major culinary events. In the past years, the student team, chef of the year, and pastry chef of the year were the overall winners in their categories and went on to represent the military services at a regional and National Civilian ACF competition. The Coast Guard won both Chef of the Year and Pastry Chef of the year at Civilian Nationals. CS1 Daniel Hughes had no culinary degree or experience cooking outside the Coast Guard and worked her way up to becoming the National Championship Chef of the Year for the ACF. This competition is unlike any other opportunity that the Coast Guard can offer to the Culinary Specialist Rating. It is up to you to take advantage of it!