By T. Anthony Bell, Fort Lee Public Affairs

FORT LEE, Va. – “And the winner is …,” said the mistress of ceremonies, “wait for it, wait for it …“Joint Team Hawaii!”

Becky Joyner’s teasing quip seconds before announcing Joint Team Hawaii as the installation of the year winner during the Military Culinary Arts Competitive Training Event Awards Ceremony Friday drew a mixture of laughs and cheers from the filled-to-capacity Lee Theater audience.

Not only because it was a great line, but it was simply restating the obvious – at least in the event’s waning days – that Hawaii reigned as the military’s culinary kings, cooking up a collective storm that blew away the competition on its way to a second consecutive installation trophy. Training and toil were key, said the team’s manager.

“I won’t lie,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Perry, “I was mad at myself on Saturday mornings when I was getting up and leaving my family, but I knew the payoff would come from the hard work.”

Perry was one of more than 240 competitors from throughout the Department of Defense who took time out of their busy schedules at dining facilities and galleys all over the world to participate in the event that ran March 5-10. Sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, MCACTE awarded nearly 400 medals and introduced many young culinarians to the nation’s largest culinary competitive training event.

Joint Team Hawaii, which began training in October, smoked the competition, earning six golds and one silver in the events judged for IOY. Its title claim and dominance looked to be a foregone conclusion as early as the morning of March 9.

“We came here with a very well-trained, determined team,” said team member Spc. Marissa Morgan, adding the detail of training sessions that went until 9 p.m. most evenings and included weekends. “We worked very hard for this.”

In other categories of the competition, Navy CS1 Frida Karani, an enlisted aide for the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, won the Armed Forces Chef of the Year title. The Fort Myer-based Sailor was not available to accept her award, but her sister, Eunice, who traveled here from Kenya, said she would be “honored and grateful” if she were present.

Pfc. Carlos Cruz of Fort Riley, Kan., was one of three contestants to earn gold medals in the Armed Forces Student Chef of the Year category. When the points were tallied, the 21-year-old first-timer had edged out the others for the actual AFSCOY title. The Puerto Rico native also was named to the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team.

Cruz’s gold was one of 49 awarded during the ceremony. The medals and the accomplishment they represented, however, are only part of the story.

“While this benefits you personally and professionally,” said Brig. Gen. Ronald Kirklin, commandant of the Quartermaster School and host of the awards ceremony, “the ultimate winners are the service men and women who dine at your establishments every single day.”

Still, the event’s competitive undertones were strong. The Navy mounted another valiant IOY effort that was much better than the remainder of the field but fell short of seriously threatening Hawaii’s stellar performance.

“I’m extremely impressed with our team,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Donald Lake, Navy Food Service, Mechanicsburg, Pa., noting the team finished second last year as well. “We had more golds last year, but the team gelled and worked together as a group.”

The Navy team earned one gold, three silver and three bronze in the IOY category. It has only participated in the top trophy event the past two years, pulling together Sailors from various locations to do so. The team has roughly six weeks to prepare, said Lake, and if it could establish some measure of continuity, it could be a formidable contender.

“If we can get a handful of the same team members in (for next year),” he said, “it’s guaranteed that we’ll take it.”

The Navy did lay claim to the master’s category, the event for the military’s most experienced chefs. The winner, CS2 Jeremy Anderson, jogged up to the stage to accept his gold medal with such glee and enthusiasm the audience applauded even before Kirklin could shake his hand. After the ceremony, he explained his feelings.

“I was thinking ‘beat the Army,’” said the Sailor assigned to the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. “The Navy has such a small presence here, and we’ve been at this a number of years so to get a little extra recognition is great. My own unit may not understand what I just did here, but all the Army folks and everybody here in this auditorium understands how hard of a competition this is. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to compete with the best of the best.”

In the international competition, the United Kingdom beat the United States and French. The category is three years old and one of the newest in the competitive training event.

This year’s event also was a tryout for the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team, which gained four new members Friday. Comprised of members from all branches of the service, the team is scheduled to compete at the Culinary World Olympics in Germany later this year.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 J.D. Ward, who primarily coordinated this year’s MCACTE, was commended by the lead judge on stage for his efforts during the awards ceremony. He said the job as coordinator is bigger than himself.

“He (the lead judge) asked the entire audience to applaud my efforts,” said Ward, “but I felt a little bit of guilt because I know how many people worked at least as hard as I did to make this work. That was all of the noncommissioned officers and instructors at the Advanced Culinary Training Division (of the Joint Culinary Training Center) and elsewhere.”

Ward, a former competitor and USACAT manager, said MCACTE is a logistical bear, requiring large amounts of man-hours to stage.

“I feel a sense of relief and accomplishment,” he said, “but I am also much more aware of how much better we can do with this show.”

The job of improving the training event for next year starts immediately, he concluded.