NAS Whidbey Cook Off

Col. Tammie Pettit, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, leans in to get a better look at one of the cake entries in the second annual Culinary Arts Competition held March 23 at NASWI. Kathy Reed/Whidbey Crosswind

What could you make for dinner if all you had to work with was pork tenderloin, mangoes, roasted red peppers and egg roll skins?

Those were the ingredients six teams of culinary specialists had to work with for the main ‘mystery basket’ event at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island’s second annual Culinary Arts Competition, held last week at Admiral Nimitz Hall. Six two-to-four member teams participated, including teams from NAS Whidbey, Naval Base Kitsap, Naval Station Everett and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Culinary Specialist 1 Matthew McFarlane, who organized the event, said the competition is a great way for cooks to show off.

“With military cooking, everyone’s in uniform and we all do similar things all the time. This is a chance for them to break out and show off their individual skills,” he explained. “It builds camaraderie.”

Civilian judge Shelly Muzzall examines the winning cake entry. Kathy Reed/Whidbey Crosswind

Categories leading up to the main event included decorated cake, showpiece/display, all fruit or vegetable showpiece/display and best burger. Four judges started the morning off with dessert by evaluating the cake entries. Cakes were made in advance with no limitations on size, color, layers or design.

Decorating themes ranged from events such as Mardi Gras, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day to wishes for world peace to an interpretation of a Salvador Dali painting.

“My cake is based on ‘The Persistence of Memory,’” said Culinary Specialist 2 Andrew Suzio, of NAS Whidbey Island. “It’s a yellow cake infused with herbal tea and orange peel, with raspberries. The frosting is cream cheese and grenadine.”

Suzio, who said he comes up with his combinations by “grabbing a couple of ingredients and smelling them together,” used gumpaste and fondant (types of edible, clay-like modeling frosting) to make the clocks and sculptural elements found in the original painting.

Culinary Specialist 1 Teofilo Izon, from the USS Nimitz, said recent events in Egypt inspired his cake, which featured a fondant-covered rice cereal globe atop a similarly constructed pyramid on an orange chiffon sheet cake. Izon said the long drive from Bremerton was harrowing for his team.

“It was very bumpy. I was worried the world might fall,” he said. “But it didn’t.”

Another team from the Nimitz didn’t fare as well with its four-layer, Easter-themed offering.

“We made a really cute rabbit, but his ears fell off on the way here,” said CSSN Darcee Kerneghan, who said this was her first competition.

It was the second competition for the team from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, although it was the first fondant-covered cake for Sgt. Heather Light.

“The hardest part was getting the fondant on the cake,” she admitted. Her team’s confection was a salute to St. Patrick’s Day, complete with a leprechaun and a pot of gold.

Commander Dan Worra, NAS Whidbey Island, jots notes as he judges a floral display made from vegetables. The entry took second place in the all produce showpiece/display category at the second annual Culinary Arts Competition held last week at NAS Whidbey Island. Kathy Reed/Whidbey Crosswind

Light’s team wound up taking first place in the cake decorating portion of the competition.

“This is quality, creative work that took a lot of time, effort and talent,” said Col. Tammie Pettit, a judge from Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Pettit was looking forward to the burger portion of the competition. “You can’t go wrong with a burger. It’ll be interesting to see how creative these troops will be.”

“It’s nice to taste, but hard to judge,” said civilian judge Shelly Muzzall, from 3 Sisters Family Farm in Oak Harbor.

A spring flower arrangement made mostly from potatoes in the all produce showpiece/display category caught the eye of Cmdr. Dan Worra, NAS Whidbey Island, also a judge.

“The flower arrangement reminded me of spring and the tulip festivals coming up. It was such a balanced presentation using fruits and vegetables,” Worra said.
Rounding out the judge’s panel was Command Master Chief Darin Hand, a self-proclaimed fan of the cooking channel, and a willing judge.

“This allows me a chance to play a part in recognizing the men and women who feed our people,” he said.

In the end, NAS Whidbey Island took home first place in the all produce showpiece/display category; Joint Base Lewis-McChord won the showpiece category with a wolf carved from chocolate; NAS Whidbey Island took top honors in the best burger category with its elk burger and team USS Nimitz won the mystery basket main event.