Military cooks and culinary arts students from three Nova Scotia Community College campuses met at Camp Aldershot March 25 to participate in Exercise Saffron, 5th Canadian Division's culinary competition.
The “black box competition” challenges teams of two to work in close quarters in a mobile kitchen trailer (MKT) that would typically be used in the field. The teams, consisting of one military cook and one NSCC student, were tasked with preparing a three-course meal using a list of ingredients that was only revealed to them the day of the event: a whole salmon with the head on, cornish game hens, beats, Nova Scotia blueberries and smoked gouda cheese.
“The equipment here is very hard to regulate. It's not like a stove in a kitchen where it's got ten different dials. This one here has got a little knob that you turn and you look at the flame to see adjustments,” said Chief Petty Officer Blair King.
“Our ovens are big metal boxes with an open flame under it.”
The competition gives civilians with an interest in the culinary field an opportunity to see how military cooks operate.
“These MKTs travel the world and support our troops. They'll feed 150 people off of one of them,” said King, who added that they are always looking to recruit cooks.
“This shows that the trade is strong and growing and we are a huge support to the army.”
The judges selected Cpl. Jonathan Chand and NSCC Lunenburg student Robert Haley as the winning duo in the six-team competition. Cooking efficiently and safely in tight quarters boils down to good communication, Chand said.
“It's a trade where you need communication all the time,” he explained.
“You don't have a clock to look up to,” Haley added. “You're always asking someone how much time you have left.”
Chand has travelled to Quebec, Ontario and Virginia as a part-time reservist, and he enjoys having the chance to share what he's learned with culinary arts students.
“It's different from your usual everyday cooking in the kitchen here. It's more fast paced, a little rushed. I like the competition and getting to meet these other cooks,” he said.
“It's been a big eye opener for me because I've only ever worked in kitchens,” added Haley.
“I've never got to work in a food truck... or outdoors. It's really different and I'm just here for fun... and to see what else the culinary world has to offer.”