Coast Guard chefs sautee the competition in 2009 Armed Forces Iron Chef Competition

SEATTLE – Starched white chef coats offset the team members from the background surfaces of the stainless steel counters, charred gas stovetops and an array of cooking pots, pans and utensils scattered throughout the room.

The four figures in double-breasted coats waited in anticipation for an announcement, a mystery ingredient known only by a select few and certain to be pivotal for the next 60 minutes. The team appeared to be a gathering of culinary professionals from high-end restaurants throughout the Pacific Northwest. A closer inspection revealed the bold black chevrons down their left sleeves coupled with the rating patch above designating their status as food service specialists in the Coast Guard.

The team waited for the beginning of the 2009 Armed Forces Iron Chef Competition at Olympic College, in Bremerton, Wash., on May 16.

Team Coast Guard was composed of Petty Officer 1st Class Doug van Kampen, the galley supervisor for Integrated Support Command (ISC) Seattle, Petty Officer 1st Class Galen Varon, Special Command Aide to Commander, 13th Coast Guard District, Petty Officer 2nd Class Ricky Uyeno, galley watch captain of ISC Seattle and Petty Officer 3rd Class Candace Gracik, chef aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Midgett, homeported in Seattle.

The competition, seven other teams from Washington installations and units composed of Air Force, Army and Navy chefs. Including Naval Base Kitsap, Naval Hospital Bremerton, Naval Station Everett, McChord Air Force Base, Tacoma, Commander Navy Region Northwest, Silverdale, USS Abraham Lincoln homeported in Bremerton, and USS Nevada homeported in Bangor.

The announcement came and the secret ingredient for this year’s Iron Chef Competition was a kumquat, a sour citrus fruit indigenous to China.

“I knew the secret ingredient was going to be really hard to work with, but from the start they (Team Coast Guard) were well organized,” said Mark J. Kaeser, one of the judges for the Iron Chef event.

The members were quick to decide on the dishes and within minutes began preparation.

“Everyone was reading from the same sheet of music,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Lorn Gordy, chief of galley operations at ISC Seattle, competitor in individual events and Team Coast Guard supporter.

In the heat of the battle, Team Coast Guard, prepared poached lobster on a bed of bowtie pasta with a Pinot Grigio cream sauce and sautéed green beans. For their creative dish they opted for a shrimp ceviche drawing on the Hawaiian-style culinary strength of Uyeno.

“Other teams went back and forth deciding what to prepare. Our team made a decision as a unit,” said van Kampen. “You want to see 60 minutes fly by enter one of these types of competitions,” he said.

As an additional challenge, with 25 minutes remaining in the competition the judges made another announcement, teams would now need to add another dish, fruit salad.

The additional dish was finished in time for plating and presentation, as a flower-shaped cantaloupe fruit salad with kumquat rhine, sprinkled with a kumquat-lime juice.

“By the end of the Iron Chef Competition we were one of only a few teams to finish and present all of the five dishes to the judges,” said Gracik. “Throughout the event we displayed professionalism, devotion to our shipmates, and integrity in each of the final products.”

Judges graded each teams’ finished product after 60 minutes and were graded on general appearance, presentation and creativity, display of skill, most originality, colors and harmony and taste and texture.

In the end, after the judges had reviewed all of the teams’ submissions, Team Coast Guard, emerged victorious as the 2009 Armed Forces Culinary Iron Chef Champions.

In addition to the Iron Chef competition, servicemembers competed in five other events including a chili cook-off, best barbeque ribs, hors d’oeurves, cake decorating and a sugar art display.

Gracik took first place in the sugar art display category with her colorful rendition of a coral reef. The winning sugar art display was composed of 27 pounds of isomalt sugar and required over 14 hours of work over a period of four days by Gracik with assistance from Uyeno.

Gracik also took first place in the cake decorating category with a nine inch lemon cake with a meringue icing, airbrushed with a free-hand red-headed mermaid.

The team from Naval Base Kitsap was selected as the overall winner of the six category competition.

“The event was a great success for Team Coast Guard, and displayed the talent of all the servicememebers,” said Kaeser.

“Special thanks go out to the rest of the ISC Seattle Galley Staff for their support while we competed. This win is for the whole galley at ISC not just for Team Coast Guard,” said van Kampen.

“We hope to take all 6 categories next year,” said Gordy.

In the meantime, the chefs at ISC Seattle and the vessels homeported there will continue to take care of their shipmate’s appetites. It is the chefs of the Coast Guard who provide vital support to personnel who carry out the mission throughout the nation and abroad, 24-7, 365 days a year.

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