Story Number: NNS131018-19Release Date: 10/18/2013 5:40:00 PM
By Mass Communication Specialist Tim D. Godbee, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West
SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- It's been said that an army wins wars on its stomach; the same can be said for Sailors aboard ships.
Throughout the fleet, culinary specialists (CSs) have gained a reputation for waking up hours before reveille to prepare breakfast for the crew and staying up well past taps to feed late night watch standers for midnight rations.
Though it's not uncommon to find CSs awarded for their efforts, they're rarely associated with fine cuisine and internationally recognized culinary certifications. Two San Diego-area chiefs are out to change that.
Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Rommel Molina and Chief Culinary Specialist Michael Edwards hold weekly cooking sessions for CSs interested in attaining American Culinary Federation (ACF) certifications. Every Saturday at the Naval Base San Diego Galley, CSs from various sea and shore commands around the San Diego area gather to critique each other's meals and techniques, share culinary knowledge, and run through mock certification exams.
"The training is designed to encourage our Sailors to enhance their professional culinary skills and personal growth," said Molina. "Whether they're staying in or transitioning out of the Navy, they have something under their belts to be competitive where ever they go."
Participants in the program attempt to get one of four possible certifications that vary from certified culinarian, an entry-level position, to certified executive chef, a position that may oversee an entire foodservice establishment. However, most of the participants in the program working their way toward earning the certified chef de cuisine qualification, the person usually in charge of the kitchen in an establishment.
"For those who really care about culinary arts, it's hard to find resourses in this community," said Edwards, a certified executive chef. "What we're trying to provide, on top of the ACF certifications, is an avenue for people who are passionate about cooking to better themselves as chefs."
The program goes far more in depth into the culinary arts than most CSs would experience during a normal day's work. While program participants sometimes endure what can seem to be harsh criticism of their dishes and techniques there's always a teaching point within them.
"As the Navy has turned itself toward simplicity, with more pre-made products and less human labor, CSs do less hands on cooking," said Edwards. "There are certain levels of food service where things are expected of you that weren't taught in the Navy, like how to break down a whole chicken, how to do fine dining, how to filet a fish. At the end of the day we're trying to help Sailors be competitive anywhere they go."
So far, this method of tough love seems to be working. The program has a 100 percent success rate. But that doesn't mean the Sailors themselves don't have to work hard and make sacrifices to get to that point.
Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Jennings said that between his duties aboard his ship, guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105), and his family, it's often difficult to find the time to practice cooking, but he finds ways to combine all his responsibilities to get things done.
"I just got back from an underway last night, so this morning I had to wake up early to get my supplies to practice with today. I'll be here all day, and I have to be back on the ship tonight for duty," said Jennings. "But I try to cook for my family twice a week for extra practice."
Molina said that one of the biggest challenges for many CSs coming from ships often need to gain confidence in their abilities. Coming from the fleet, they know they have to take their cooking to another level and it takes time for some to realize what they can do.
"Shipboard cooking is our rate's foundation, but fine cuisine is what takes our abilities to another level," added Molina.
Edwards agreed and added that learning to lead and organize also takes some adjustment.
"Teaching them to cook is the easy part, its like teaching fish how to swim," said Edwards. "These guys already know what they're doing, we're just teaching them a few new techniques and giving them some new ideas. The most challenging part of certification is organization."
For the exam, certification participants must organize a cooking timeline, what equipment they'll use, write out their recipes, create a menu, limit their waste and follow all cleanliness standards.
"It's kind of like running a business," said Edwards. "In the Navy we often just follow orders. Here they're the chief and deciding factor."
The program is partially funded by Navy Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (Navy COOL). Students still have to pay some fees out of pocket, but the instructors made it clear that the benefits far outweigh the costs.
"Some of these certifications demand six figure salaries," said Molina. "It really is an amazing career opportunity for CSs whether or not they're staying in the Navy."
CSs have been feeding the fleet for some time now, but with more CSs ACF qualifications Sailors can look forward to more opportunities to experience fine dining on ships and bases around the San Diego-area.