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Army chefs win national military cook-off

BRANDON - A duo of Army chefs, including one who lives in Brandon, won a trophy and bragging rights at a competition featuring cooks from all branches of military service. Sgt. 1st Class Rene Marquis, who works at MacDill Air Force Base, and Sgt. Matthew Flemister, who is stationed in Washington, won first place in the Freedom Chef Challenge sponsored by the American Culinary Federation. Teams of top chefs from the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy battled it out in the heat of the kitchen Aug. 2 through Aug. 5 in Anaheim, Calif. "This competition is the (the American Culinary Federation's) way of acknowledging all the hard work and sacrifice military chefs make - many of whom place their lives at risk for the safety of our country and to keep our soldiers fed," said Leah Craig, editor-in-chief of the American Culinary Federation's Sizzle magazine for culinary students.
The five, two-person teams received a standing ovation from the 650-member audience at the federation's President's Grand Ball, she said. The chefs announced that they planed to donate $4,000 to the Fisher House Foundation, which assists families of wounded soldiers. During the competition, the teams had 30 minutes to review ingredients in a basket that was provided by the federation, write a menu and shop. Teams had three hours to set up, cook and serve, and 30 minutes to clean up. A minimum of four courses was required. Teams had to use all ingredients in the basket, but they were not limited to those ingredients. Marquis, with then-teammate Sgt. Maj. David Turcotte, also won top honors at the only previous Freedom Chef Challenge, in 2008. Marquis, originally from Lewiston, Maine, has always loved to cook. He has worked in kitchens since he was 13 and has been a professional cook for 23 years. After earning an associate's degree in 1992 from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, he worked as a garde manger and chef tournant at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., and as the executive sous chef at the Holiday Inn Executive Center in Columbia, Mo. In 1994 "the Army gave me a large sum of money to be a cook," he said. "They wanted me to become an officer, but I just wanted to cook." He began his military service as personal chef and enlisted aide for the commander of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, Va., and currently serves at MacDill. In between, he asked to be assigned to the state-of-the-art, troop-feeding dining facility at Fort Drum, N.Y., from which he was deployed four times to Panama and Bosnia. He also has taught food preparation as senior chef instructor at the Quartermaster Center and School with the Army Center of Excellence, Subsistence at Fort Lee, Va. "I have been very blessed in my career," Marquis said. The U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team, of which he is a member, garnered 16 gold and 17 silver medals at the 2004 World Culinary Olympics and 12 gold medals in 2006, he said. They finished in second place in 2008 after winning 13 gold medals. In 2006 he was captain of the U.S. Army Culinary Arts Team which placed fourth in the world, with 12 gold medals, at the Villeroy and Boch Culinary World Cup. Marquis will participate in his third Culinary World Cup in November in Luxembourg. Cooks play an important role in the Army, he said. Soldiers typically have access to four meals a day. Police officers, cooks, medical personnel and others work 24 hours a day, so food must be available around the clock in the dining facilities. "They're not called 'mess halls' anymore," said Marquis. "The dining facilities are like local restaurants. The food is more sophisticated than it used to be." There are more than 10,000 cooks in today's Army, said Marquis, and about 90 personal chefs/enlisted aides. Marquis not only competes but also is an American Culinary Federation-certified judge and serves as a coach of student culinary teams, such as a team from the Art Institute of Tampa, which is preparing for a competition in Orlando. "I'm always working with food," he said. "It's my true passion." At the American Culinary Federation's Freedom Chef Challenge in August, a mystery basket was given to each of the five two-chef teams representing the American military branches. First-place winners Army Sgt. 1st Class Rene Marquis of Brandon and fellow chef, Sgt. Matthew Flemister, received a whole snapper, grouper, pheasant, duck and rabbit, along with a box of organic fruit and vegetables. Their winning menu included the following seven courses: Seared yellowtail snapper with citrus beurre blanc and pineapple sauce Cold avocado soup garnished with spicy tomato concassé Rabbit terrine on a bed of fingerling potatoes with a mushroom mélange and cherry chutney Composed mixed-greens salad with seared pheasant with a creamy vinaigrette, blue-cheese tart, artichoke hearts and balsamic glaze Panko-crusted grouper with corn custard, red-onion confit and peach purée Roasted duck breast on a bed of risotto and baby vegetables Cheesecake with macerated fruits and raspberry sauce To view a video clip from the competition, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyVMp3Gc1xg.

Contact Tribune correspondent Barbara Routen at Neighbors@tampabay.rr.com.

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