PENTAGON CITY, Va., Nov. 15, 2017 —
Twelve military chefs engaged in their version of the Super Bowl last night at the annual Salute to Military Chefs sponsored by USO-Metro at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel here.
And like the New England Patriots in the second half of the most recent Super Bowl, the chefs operated as a team running full tilt as they prepared a six-course dinner for about 200 people.
This was the 20th year that USO-Metro has sponsored the event with BMC, Ribbons Communications and Venge Vineyards. Elaine Rogers, the president and CEO of USO-Metro, said the dinner started as a way to highlight the service members’ contributions to the USO.
“We wanted to honor the military chefs who volunteered for our USO year after year after year bringing that touch of home -- you know, ‘bring food, they will come,’ -- that whole philosophy,” she said.
Highlighting Contributions of Military Chefs“They work so hard for us and so tirelessly behind the scenes. So, this dinner started to highlight their contributions: to be able to say … ‘thank you for what you do,’ and we are bringing you up front to say thank you.”
The young men and women came from all services and serve throughout Washington from the White House to the Defense Secretary’s Mess to the Coast Guard to the National Guard Bureau.
Ritz-Carlton Executive Chef Sriram Harihan turned his banquet kitchen over to the military chefs with no qualms. “These people know what they are doing,” he said. “It is a pleasure to watch them work. I am just worried the area is a bit small.”
Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Edwards, a chef for the Coast Guard commandant, smiled at that statement. “I was on a buoy tender on the Ohio River and the galley was about the size of this table,” he said. “I fed 18 people, three meals a day out of it. We made it work.”
All of the military chefs had similar stories: Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Cody Anderson, cooked on a missile submarine; Air Force Staff Sgt. Amber Boyd started her military career in the Security Forces; Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Sierra Tyler cooked for hundreds aboard a Navy amphibious vessel. All of them had deployed to the Middle East or other hotspots around the world or performed sea duty numerous times.
Saluting Service Members
That, too, is a measure of their quality, said Chef Robert Irvine, a world-renowned chef and member of the board of USO-Metro. “It’s humbling to watch an 18 year old send off a jet from the end of an aircraft carrier that’s worth $160 million,” he said. “Or standing watch in Mosul or Afghanistan.
“But they don’t do that on their own,” Irvine continued. “What they have that is really special is people preparing meals when they finish that watch. Chefs in the military are the most overlooked people in the world. They are the most amazing folks and the meal you saw tonight is just a fraction of what they can do.”
The final event of the night recognized the Enlisted Aide of the Year. The winner, chosen under the auspices of the Military Hospitality Alliance was Army Master Sgt. Scott Strippoli.
The enlisted aides have to be experts and perfectionists in all they do. They have to understand military and foreign military protocol. They have to be experts on uniforms and ensure they are maintained and updated as needed. The enlisted aides are the ones who work with their bosses for official functions, planning the menus, preparing the food and ensuring all is perfect. They maintain the grounds and public rooms of official residences. Most attain the job after serving as military chefs.
Each service nominated a candidate. In addition to Strippoli, they included: Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Mason T. Champlin; Air Force MSgt. Jeffery Fritz; Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Frida Karani; and Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Jeffery D. Matthews Jr.
Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, congratulated all the aides and explained the importance of the position.
“If it is true that our homes are reflection of our character and they only have the charm we bring to them, then you are looking at the charming characters that grace our homes,” Selva said.
“Every one of these enlisted aides in one way or another is part of our lives. For every senior person here, their job is to take care of our residences, to take care of entertaining,” he said. “To make sure that the place we live is ready for anybody to drop in, from a congressman to a senator to a governor to a foreign dignitary to an ambassador.
“And they do it with quiet grace that is simply amazing,” Selva continued. “They are not paid to predict the future -- they are paid to make it. We are all proud of you. You allow us to focus on the work and you represent us in a way none of us could.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)