So others may eat: Breaking culinary barriers at BSU San Pedro

On a small island in the middle of America’s largest port complex is a simple scene that appears uncharacteristic for this utilitarian environment: row after row of potted herbs and culinary plants that both please the eye and bring pleasant aromas to this otherwise industrial landscape. It may not be something one is used to seeing adorn a military galley, but this quaint garden is just one of the things that make the Base Support Unit San Pedro galley stand out.

Whether it be the delicious entrees (ranging from chicken paprikash to chipotle-glazed salmon), the immaculate condition of the kitchen, the pleasant demeanor of the cooks, or the bounteous culinary garden, any visitor to the BSU San Pedro galley will instantly notice that this is no ordinary dining facility.

The herb garden, which boasts an impressive 150 plus varieties of culinary plants, did not exist before Petty Officer 1st Class Barry Wildman, the galley’s Food Service Officer, arrived in 2007. But this garden serves a higher purpose than simply pleasing the eye.

“I do it to teach cooks diversity in nature,” explains Wildman. “It gives the cooks a chance to use fresh herbs. I want to teach them about layers of flavor. I teach them about proper technique, the fundamentals of cooking. Fresh herbs are a huge part of it.”

The idea for a culinary herb garden first came to Wildman while serving at the Sector Key West galley in Key West, Fla.

“They told me we couldn’t afford fresh herbs,” says Wildman, “so I said if you won’t let me buy herbs, let me plant an herb garden.”

[amazon-product]0875969941[/amazon-product]The garden at the Sector Key West galley eventually grew to include about 180 potted herbs, an elaborate irrigation system and a deck and patio to accommodate outside seating. The BSU San Pedro galley crew has similar plans for their galley, starting with the herb garden that is already thriving.

Planting a successful garden was not something Wildman had ever done before. “I was never into plants,” admits Wildman. “I just started planting and talking to people at nurseries, I’m still learning.”

Wildman says Food Service Specialists that come to this galley not only learn about the proper applications and benefits of using fresh herbs, but they learn the essentials necessary to become great chefs.

As the galley’s FSO, Wildman is charged with setting policy in the galley, including maintaining the cook’s schedules and creating the menus. He uses these responsibilities as opportunities to teach the junior cooks in the galley.

“Ninety percent of what I put on that menu is based on giving the crew practice in cooking technique,” explains Wildman. “I make sure that there is an equal amount of roasting, an equal amount of sautéing, an equal amount of braising. And we use fresh vegetables so they learn about vegetable cookery.”

The culinary skill of the cooks in the BSU San Pedro galley is apparent to those at their home base as well as those they serve when temporarily assigned elsewhere.

“Every one of these cooks is a good cook,” explains Wildman. “They are all talented cooks. Every time they go TDY, they are asked to either come back or the host units ask to keep them.”

Wildman admits he can’t do it alone and takes great pride in the crew he serves with. “I am only able to teach because they take care of their day-to-day jobs so well,” says Wildman.

“Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Rainstar is as purely talented a cook as I have ever served with,” says Wildman. “Petty Officer 2nd Class Crystal Wiggins is a gifted cake decorator and exceptional at everything dealing with paperwork. Petty Officer 3rd Class Luis Noriega is one of the hardest workers I have ever served with.”

The galley receives great support from the command as well. Lt. Cmdr. Dennis Svatos, Executive Officer of Base Support Unit San Pedro, has provided over $75,000 in funding for galley upgrades over the last two years, allowing the crew to learn and perfect their craft in a state-of-the-art facility.

Aside from cooks learning valuable skills while in the kitchen, the galley crew at BSU San Pedro has various field trips planned to expose them to Southern California’s rich culinary culture.

“We’ll go to the La Brea Bread Factory, the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market, various wineries,” says Wildman. “They will be educational trips to say, look, what you guys are doing is every bit as good as what’s out there.”

[amazon-product]0807132551[/amazon-product]Wildman hopes to inspire the younger cooks in his galley in the same way he was inspired as a young cook serving alongside an influential chief petty officer aboard Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, homeported in Cheboygan, Michigan.

“He never used military recipes,” says Wildman about his first Chief. “He had great cookbooks, taught proper techniques and did everything right and cooked everything fresh.”

Wildman hopes to instill in his crew the same passion for cooking by teaching them to cook correctly with top-of-the-line ingredients and to have pride in the meals they create.

Wildman is not alone in his goal to improve the skills of Coast Guard cooks, as well as the quality of the meals they create. “The rate is moving in the right direction,” says Wildman. “I think the people in charge of the rate have been moving in a more culinary direction over the last five years.”

This is apparent upon visiting the BSU San Pedro galley and witnessing first-hand the culinary activity that goes on, and tasting the benefits of using the freshest herbs and ingredients in meal preparation.

Whether members stream in from Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach, Station LA-LB, Aids to Navigation Team LA-LB, Base Support Unit San Pedro, Maritime Safety and Security Team 91103, Port Security Unit 311, or the various surrounding agencies in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, when lunchtime comes, everyone knows they can count on a great culinary experience at the BSU San Pedro galley.

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