FORT HOOD, Texas–As Soldiers enter the Always Ready Dining Facility on West Fort Hood, they are welcomed by the faces of the Army culinary specialists who serve them. Soldiers are also greeted with the various aromas of food prepared by the culinary specialists who recently earned honors at the unit level.
Spc. Luis Mendoza and Spc. Saul Morua, who are Soldiers with the Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 303rd Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade here, were awarded the Junior Chef of the Quarter for 2018. Morua earned the second quarter honors, and Mendoza was awarded for the first quarter.
Due to their achievements, Morua and Mendoza bring pride and accomplishment to the 303rd, 504th, and to the Always Ready DFAC.
“It brings pride and reflects good leadership,” said Sgt. Melissa Colon, the administrative noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the Always Ready DFAC, and a Soldier with the 62nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 11th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade.
The Junior Chef of the Quarter competition lasts two days, with the first day as a cook-off, and consists of a mystery basket event, said Mendoza. The mystery basket has various unknown food ingredients inside that the competitors are presented with.
“Some people try to guess ahead of time what is in the basket and will prep,” said Mendoza. “If it has this, I can do this, or if it has that I can do that.”
Mendoza said he did not try preparing ahead of time. When he received the basket, he made the best of the products he was given. Some of the items in his basket were chicken, strawberries, rosemary, various seasonings, and other items he needed to produce a three course meal.
Colon said she remembers Mendoza talking about his prized creation which was an upside-down strawberry cupcake. She said he also made tomato soup.
The second day’s events consisted of a board appearance, said Mendoza.
An oral board is an event where Soldiers are questioned by one or more Army noncommissioned officers about Army regulations or job-specific tasks.
Morua, who was selected for the second quarter in March 2018, said this was the first time he was selected to participate in the board and cook-off. He had an idea of the contents in the mystery basket, but did not know for sure.
He said his basket contained chicken, potatoes, a variety of seasonings, vegetables and other items to complete his three course meal. His dessert was a baked apple with almonds, marshmallows and a side of strawberries.
“It turned out good for my first time competing and going to the board,” he said.
Morua said he prepared for a month for the board and the cooking event. A word of advice from him to others is to not be scared to ask NCOs for help.
“Sometimes my NCO would pull me to the side and ask me questions, or throw a question at me while I am cooking, said Morua. “This helped me a lot.”
Colon offered her advice to other culinary specialists who would like to achieve the quarterly award.
“If they are willing and have that strive and motivation, go for it,” she said. “The best way to learn is to go in and do it; learn from your mistakes.”
Both Mendoza and Morua will be competing for the III Corps Chef of the Year, which takes place later this year, said Colon.
Mendoza said he is not nervous to compete in the III Corps Chef of the Year. Morua, however, said he is nervous to compete for the yearly award.