Not just desserts – Local Soldiers take the cake in Army European cook-off

Spc. Leeanne McCoy
21st Theater Support Command

– cup of elbow grease
– tablespoon of determination
– ounce of pride
– pound of skill
– lifetime of preparation
– hour of giving the right answers

It’s the recipe for success for two 21st Theater Support Command Soldiers.

Spc. Dawn Walles, of the 37th Transportation Command, and Sgt. Nicholas Bogan, of the 68th Transportation Company recently won the U.S. Army, Europe Installation Management Agency – Europe’s, NCO and Soldier cooks of the year awards.

The USAREUR Food Service award, established in 1993, recognizes Soldiers for their knowledge and achievements. The aim is to boost morale of the food service personnel.

***image1***Competitors are drawn from all USAREUR area support groups, major commands and separate subordinate commands. Their journey began at company level Cook of the Quarter boards. Competitors demonstrated their knowledge in specific culinary arts, soldier skills, food-service management as well as in budgeting and accounting.

Sergeant Nicholas Bogan, NCOIC at the 28th Transportation dining facility at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim said the competition was an opportunity to show that there’s more to cooks than just cooking.

“The command recognizes that food-service personnel are not just cooks. The board that we went to had a lot to do with Soldier skills as well as cooking skills, so it’s a mixture of both,” he said.
In the next step, Soldiers and NCOs competed at unit-level Cook of the Year boards. Those winners, four junior enlisted and four Non-commissioned officers, finally squared off head-to-head at USAREUR headquarters in Heidelberg. The soldiers were judged by a panel of sergeants major from each of the major subordinate commands, with ties broken by USAREUR’s chief food service supervisor from the Deputy Chief of Staff of Logistics.

“Every cook board I went to has been harder than any promotion board I ever went to. So it’s a good preparation tool, and plus, we’re trying to break that stigma, that stereotype, that all cooks are just – cooks,” Sergeant Bogan said.

For Specialist Walles, a food-service specialist at the 37th Transportation Command’s Kleber dining facility in Kaiserslautern, the competition was an opportunity to showcase her culinary skills.
“I like to bake. That’s one of my favorite things about being in the dining facility is I get to bake. I love to bake – cakes, cookies, pies, all that stuff. I love creating – just trying to make new things,” Specialist Walles said.

“So on the days when they’ve got new stuff out there, and it looks kind of funny, trust me it tastes good,” she said. “I made a blueberry cheesecake and strawberry cheesecake and chocolate-chip cheesecake, just to see what I could do.”

Sergeant Bogan said he enjoys the creative side of cooking as well.

“I’ve been to Italy, and I’ve been to Korea, so I’ve seen a lot of different cooking styles. I would take what I learned form the Korean cooks I worked with, and the Italian cooks I worked with, and I’d just change it up a little bit and make something totally different,” he said.

“One day I made chicken lasagna for an Italian family while I was there, and they were like, ‘There’s no such thing as chicken lasagna.’ And in Italy there’s not. But they enjoyed every bit of it, and every time I talk to them now, they want to know when I’m going to cook it for them again.”

Specialist Walles started cooking when she was seven because her mother often worked evening shifts.

She also said that although she was looking for recognition and some extra points for her promotion package, there was another perk to winning.

***image2***“It just means so much, it means… kind of bragging rights as well – I can say I’m the best cook in Europe,” she said.

Working in the DFAC is gratifying for Bogan and Walles. Walles said she enjoys the fast-paced atmosphere.

“I like the excitement – the deadlines,” she said. “We have a deadline three times a day, and it has got to be done every two hours. You have to have it done; you have to have it look good. It’s just fun for me. It keeps me on my toes at all times.”

“I just love food,” said Specialist Walles. “I love the food network. ‘The Iron Chef’ is my favorite show.”

They get plenty of practice cooking at the dining facilities. At Sergeant Bogan’s Coleman Barracks, they serve around 350 people at each meal. Specialist Walles’ Kleber facility is also hectic.

As for the future, Sergeant Bogan said he plans to stay in Germany, but Specialist Walles said she has her eye on a bigger prize – a promotion.

“As far as reaching the top – this is not my entire goal. My entire goal is to get on the All Army Culinary Team for food competitions, like making sculptures out of food,” she explained.

“Right now, my big focus is for Thanksgiving – we have the dining facility competition that day. And I guess they’re going to pick the culinary team from all the projects they see that day around Europe,” said Specialist Walles.