By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public Affairs

FORT LEE, Va. – Chief Warrant Officer 3 J.D. Ward remembers a few years ago how a private first class brimming with overconfidence was introduced to what is now the Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event.

Within hours of competing, the private first class realized how little he knew about cooking and how much better the competition was. He vowed to learn more and returned for the annual event every opportunity he got.

The soldier eventually went on to earn an American Culinary Federation Gold Medal and a spot on the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team.

The soldier’s story is part of the Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event’s 40-year lore as the military’s biggest training kitchen; a place where young chefs come to fellowship, share ideas and learn through competition, said Ward, the “overconfident” private first class who is now the show’s coordinator. As a principal organizer, he looks to the competition’s horizon with the sentiment of its transformative powers.

“I sincerely hope that while serving in this position others can have at least half the rewarding experience that I have had here,” he said of the event that runs March 5-10 here.

Hosted by the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence and sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, the Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event is hailing its 41st year and hopes to attract roughly 200 contestants from the U.S. armed services and several foreign countries as well as thousands of public spectators. Ward, who also oversees the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team, said the event promises to be as exciting as in year’s past but with a few modifications.

“Two most noticeable changes are the competition will not offer ice carving due to limited participation,” he said. “Also, the cold food ‘Team Buffet’ category has been redesigned to keep pace with the Culinary Olympics and American Culinary Federation Team Cold Food Competition.”

The Culinary Olympics, held every four years in Germany, and American Culinary Federation Cold Food Competition are two prestigious events in which the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team competes.

The Fort Lee competition’s biggest draw – the Military Hot Food Kitchen event – is scheduled for each day of the competition. It is open to the public and organized as a fine restaurant lunch event. During the challenge, teams are charged with preparing three-course meals for diners, who act as judges in an unofficial capacity.

“This event pits the best chefs in the armed forces against each other in cooking competitions that can be likened to ‘Chopped’ and ‘Iron Chef America,’” said Ward, comparing the hot food kitchen event to popular TV shows.

Meal prices for Military Hot Food Kitchen event are a fraction of what it would cost at four-star establishments. “Tickets are first-come, first-served and available at the standard meal rate of $5.55,” added Ward. Tickets will be available at the Post Field House beginning at 10 a.m.; seating starts at 11 a.m.; and meal service starts at 11:30 a.m.

The International Team Challenge is another of Ward’s favorite events. It pits two-person teams in a competition that features a time limit and mystery basket consisting of ingredients revealed shortly before the start and used to create multi-course meals. The final products are scrutinized by a panel of distinguished international judges.

The Military Hot Food Kitchen and International Team Challenge are among the many events that will be free and open to the public at the Post Field House. Public viewing hours are 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., March 5-10.

The Armed Forces Master, Senior and Junior Chef of the year competitions are unavailable for public viewing but are the event’s most prestigious. The winners have appeared on the covers of national publications and were featured on TV shows such as “Fox and Friends.”

As in previous years, the competition will serve as grounds to select new members of the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team.

Lastly, the event has featured a number of celebrity guests over the years. This year’s list of invitees had not been disclosed at press time. Ward said more information will be made available as “coordination and dates are finalized.”

The Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event awards ceremony is scheduled for March 11, 10 a.m., at the Lee Theater.