Face of Defense: Army's 'Grill Sergeant' Takes on Culinary Hero
By Kimberly Fritz
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT LEE, Va., July 16, 2009 Army Sgt. 1st Class Brad Turner, also known as “The Grill Sergeant,” often treats others using his culinary expertise. But recently, Turner got a treat of his own.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Brad Turner, known as “The Grill Sergeant,” takes a look at what Chef Bobby Flay cooked up for an episode of "Throwdown with Bobby Flay," filmed at Fort Lee, Va., July 2, 2009. The episode will air on the Food Network later this year. U.S. Army photo by Kimberly Fritz
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Turner recently returned here, where he was once an instructor at the Army Center of Excellence, Subsistence, to film a special for the Food Network -- or so he thought.
With food service training students watching and learning, Turner, who works in the Pentagon’s Executive Dining Facility, began entertaining and engaging the soldiers gathered for a special day of culinary training.
Turner, who is known for singing while he cooks, shared his cooking philosophy and culinary tips, as well as his unique vocabulary. Words like "marinipulating, splaining," and ingredients dubbed "ooh, wee and wow," rolled off his tongue as he cooked. Salt, otherwise known as "ooh;" "wee," known as pepper; and "wow," representing garlic, are staples in most of Turner’s original recipes. Turner asked the audience to help him by shouting "ooh, wee, wow" when he used these ingredients.
The students happily engaged as he prepared the mustard-based marinade for his special "sunshine barbecue chicken." The origin of his marinade came early in his career when a fellow soldier asked Turner to concoct a milder sauce that wouldn't aggravate his fierce heartburn.
As the culinary students watched his every move, Turner didn't miss an opportunity to educate and inspire. He told the students how they are learning the same methods during their training as any other culinary student in the world.
With his chicken on the grill, Turner began preparations for his baby red potato salad when famed Chef Bobby Flay jumped from the back of a tactical vehicle at the field services training area and challenged Turner to a competitive cook-off for an episode of "Throwdown with Bobby Flay," a show that airs on the Food Network.
Turner, astonished at the appearance of one of the world's premier grill chefs, immediately rose to the challenge set before him. Claiming to always be a professional, Turner cited some of the NCO Creed.
"No one is more professional than I," he said.
The set, originally configured for one chef, quickly was transformed into dueling work stations where Flay's team worked to catch up with Turner's progress.
As the two chefs worked over the hot coals of the charcoal grills, culinary students soaked up the delicious aromas and the cooking tips emanating from the two successful chefs.
When the cooking was completed, the dishes were served up, and each soldier sampled the dueling chefs' creations.
Army Brig. Gen. Jesse R. Cross, Quartermaster Center and School commanding general, and Frances Daniel, owner of Mrs. Marshall's Carytown Cafe, served as judges in a blind taste test to determine the winner of the cook-off.
The results are a well-guarded secret that viewers will learn when the show airs later this year.
No matter which recipe and chef won the lighthearted and entertaining battle of the barbecue, the young culinary soldiers walked away winners.
Cross said the students would remember this day for years to come.
"These guys will be cooking their cornbread and their barbecue recipes, and they'll remember they saw Bobby Flay at work," he said.
For Turner, the events of the day didn't quite hit him until he walked away from the set. He was overcome with emotion and overwhelmed at the events.
"When one of your heroes steps around the corner and you're doing what you love to do and they do what you love to do, and then to inspire 100 new soldiers that are going to be in all parts of the world, it's just overwhelming," Turner said. "They saw something today that let them know that anything is possible. Nineteen years ago I was sitting right where they were sitting and someone inspired me."
For a moment he was at a loss for words thinking about the gravity of the event.
"I love what I do," Turner said. "The greatest part of today came when we were cooking and Chef Flay came to the back where I had set my chicken and potato salad down and he ate three more pieces of chicken and dug into the potato salad.
“There is no greater compliment than for someone to genuinely like your food. And he ate it genuinely," he continued. "For me, that was the greatest compliment."
When asked what he thought of Turner's unique recipe, Flay said he loved it.
"I was eating throughout the competition. I kept thinking there was curry or something in it," Flay said. "It had natural heat from the mustard and the brown sugar for the sweet; it was a great balance."
Flay wasn't able to pinpoint the spice he tasted in the marinade until Turner told him.
"Brad told me it was ginger," Flay said. "He shared his secret underlying ingredient."
The consensus of all who gathered to watch the memorable event was that both chefs' dishes and the event were a treat.
(Kimberly Fritz works in the Fort Lee public affairs office.)