690th Military Police Company Food Service Team heats up Connelly Competition
CAMP BLANDING, Fla. (July 16, 2012) – Soldiers from the 690th Military Police Company participated to become Regional Champions of the Philip A. Connelly Food Service Competition at Camp Blanding on Saturday by preparing a pre-determined meal for 90 diners within a set time schedule. With service being promptly at noon, several VIPS from the 164th Air Defense Artillery Brigade and Joint Forces Headquarters, as well as dozens of hungry Soldiers, arrived just in time to taste the very best food in the Florida National Guard.
Staff Sgt. Keith Griffin of Bronson, Fla., headed up the core team consisting of Sgt. Kenneth Lewis of Lake Park, Fla., and Sgt. Lisa Adamski of New Port Richey, Fla., as well as a dozen contributing members of field sanitation and Kitchen Patrol (KP) who jumped right in to run dishes back and forth to be washed or grab ingredients for the next menu item. While the competition focuses a lot on the actual cooking, it took the entire team from 690th to accomplish what they believe is a confident win, according to Chief Warrant Officer John Bruce, the State Food Program Manager. The team operated under the watchful eye of the Senior Food Service Non-Commissioned Officer, Sgt. 1st Class William Bass of Floral City, Fla., and the Food Service Officer, 1st. Lt. Lesley Caron of Jacksonville who ensured the Soldiers remained hydrated, motivated and on task.
The competition began days before the actual cook off, with teams coming in advance to scout the perfect location for the Mobile Kitchen Trailer (MKT) and all the adjoining elements. Their field sanitation tent and generators needed to be a prescribed distance away from the food and the burners, yet they needed a clear path from the headcount table to the hand washing station through the MKT and finally into the mess tent where everyone could enjoy the food.
At 5 a.m. the morning of the competition, the team arrived on site to begin initial preparations even though their burners could not be started until exactly 6 a.m. The evaluators maintained a copy of their estimated timeline to check at each stage of meal preparation if they were still on time. Critical to their success was being ready to serve their Soldiers promptly at meal time, and this team faced the additional challenge of having a portion of their Soldiers out in the field. This meant they needed to have two sets of each food item – one mobile for the field and one to remain with them at the site.
The chosen meal consisted of a spring salad, tortellini soup, chicken parmesan, green beans with sautéed mushrooms, garlic parmesan toast and strawberry shortcake. According to evaluator Paul Gilmore, the recipes called for precise measurements and forced the Soldiers to cook in batches since they only had two ovens and four burners available at any given time. This meant they needed to time everything just right and cook in batches to ensure the first and last meals were both served at the same quality and temperature.
For the cooks inside the MKT, they faced not only the stare of the evaluators, but intense pressure from everyone in their unit and higher headquarters to get it out on time, according to Sgt. Adamski. She said the heat of all six burner sources on at once begins to wear you down too. Although the tension was increasingly palpable as serving time neared, the team hunkered down and finished in what was unofficially stated to be the fastest time so far, according to the evaluators. This finish, coupled with positive remarks from both the evaluation team and the Soldiers, bodes well on 690th’s chances of representing the region at the national competition.
“I would come out here every day for this,” said diner Spc. Amanda Zocchi of St. Cloud, Fla. Others were said to have rated the meal as a “strong 8” or a “solid 9”, according to Gilmore.
The Philip A. Connelly Award, often referred to as the Connelly Competition, pits every state and territory against each other in a race to be named the best food service operation in the National Guard. Contracted evaluators from Bowhead attend every single cook off and meticulously tally points for key requirements like cleanliness, safety and time management.
The 690th, who recently joined the 164th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, were chosen by officials like Chief Bruce and his team from the State Food Program Management Office based on the results of their annual food service inspections. When the Connelly Competition came up, they immediately recommended the team from 690th and set things in motion with Bowhead to have evaluators come down to observe them.
The unit that wins for its region gets $10,000 to purchase new items for its kitchen, as well as one-week culinary scholarships for two Soldiers, so the pressure is on to follow each step to a tee. If the team from 690th goes on to win at the national competition, they could win an additional $40,000 and some serious bragging rights for not only their unit, but the entire 164th Air Defense Artillery Brigade and the Florida National Guard.