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Dover Reserve chefs embrace Hennessy challenge

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Damien Taylor
  • 512th Airlift Wing

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE. Del. — Nine 512th Memorial Affairs Squadron chefs dashed across the kitchen, racing the clock to prepare their cuisine for the John L. Hennessy food service competition at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, when halfway into the event, the judges delivered a box of six mystery ingredients and charged them with creating an appetizer. 

The 512th chefs from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, put their heads together to concoct an appetizer idea using a pack of ramen noodles, peanut-butter, applesauce, a bag of cheese curls, canned salmon and cereal. 

The former 2017 Hennessy award champs, were one of four competing squadrons tasked with the on-the-spot objective; a new concept introduced to the competition.

Taking a step further toward innovation, the 2019 John L. Hennessy competition took place in one location as opposed to the installations of participating teams like in past competitions.

“We came together to think of a creative and new way to do the competition,” said Chief Master Sgt. Dan Kelly, Services functional manager at Air Force Reserve Command, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. “This is the first year we’re hosting at Dobbins, where the teams will get to use a no-kidding kitchen.”

The 2019 competition would focus on culinary arts to inspire the teams’ imagination, added Kelly. He said he was fully confident in the Dover reservists’ ability to execute the services mission, but this year’s event would assess their capability to achieve one of the Air Force’s key goals – increase quality of life. 

For five hours, the 512th MAS cooking team prepped and cooked appetizers, entrées, and a dessert, filling the field kitchen with the aroma of peppered steaks, Irish greens and barbeque chicken. 

For the 512th MAS reservists, the John L. Hennessy competition March 9 was a first. One participating Airman had graduated from Services technical training four months prior to the event and had only two months experience working in an Air Force dining facility.

“I’m excited, because we all get to embrace the challenge together,” said Airman Lia Beaufort, a 512th MAS services apprentice . “It’s new to all of us, and it’s something we don’t do on a regular basis.”

Beaufort said the best part of her experience was when Col. Lisa Craig, director of Manpower, Personnel and Services at Robins AFB , told her what a good job she did. 

Lt. Col Joy Atkins, 512th MAS commander, and two of the squadron’s senior leaders, Chief Master Sgt. Ryan Leveille and Senior Master Sgt. Raenita Monroe, attended the competition to support the cooking team. 

“The team started training two months prior to the competition,” said Leveille. “I know they were nervous, because it isn’t their fulltime mission, but they did a fantastic job. They held nothing back.”

Leveille didn’t either. To boost morale, the chief master sergeant donned a leprechaun costume during the last hour of the competition, stating it was an appropriate gesture of good luck with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner.

With their leadership’s support and a life-sized good luck charm, the 512th chefs settled into their tasks as the Hennessy evaluation team gaged their performance in excellence in management, force readiness support, food quality and production, and training and safety awareness.

In the final 30 minutes of the event, the judges evaluated the 512th competitors on employee and customer relations as the cooking team served meals to trainees on the site. Judges also taste-tested an appetizer, three entrées and dessert for evaluation.

Atkins said watching her Airmen put the time and energy into competing was a highlight of her career. 

“To compete for the Hennessy award, is the best privilege you can have in our career field,” said Atkins. “The fact that we were chosen to participate when food service isn’t our primary mission as a squadron is really something to brag about. We’re like the Cinderella team. We stepped out of our comfort zone, embraced the challenge and showed excellence.”

The Hennessy Travelers Association is expected to announce the Hennessy award winner around April.

The winner will attend the Hennessy Awards celebration in Chicago, Illinois, and will participate in a week-long food service educational event.