The United States Coast Guard Culinary Team beat 19 competitors to be named 2020 Joint Culinary Training Exercise Installation of the Year.
The competition included teams from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and international teams from France, Germany and Great Britain, with the Coast Guard earning 20 medals — five gold, six silver and nine bronze, according to a Facebook post. Chief Petty Officer Edward Fuchs, team manager, says training time helped the chefs prepare.
"One of the things that gave us a leg up this year that we've never had before is that we had 10 days of training time leading up to it," Fuchs said. He added that time to run through everything with a team that had never worked together before, made all the difference. He credits Master Chief Matthew Simolon and his crew for opening up the USCG Yorktown, Virginia, galley for their team as one of the reasons they won.
Chief Petty Officer Scott Jeffries, the Coast Guard Team Advisor, shared that many of the other military branch teams competing there had been working on their craft together for six months or longer to prepare for the competition.
"The reaction from them when they would learn about us (USCG team) only being together for nine days prior to the start of the competition was pretty awesome. They understand how hard this thing is and how much work goes into it," Jeffries said. "The Yorktown galley made it all possible by getting us rations or running us to the store. Without them, this wouldn't have been successful at all."
The road to competing in this culinary competition isn't easy. The hours are long, often stretching into 12-plus hour days. Fuchs shared there was one stretch where he was away from his hotel room for 30 hours. But that continuous hard work and unfailing dedication paid off.
Fuchs said the Coast Guard has always had to work a little harder because all of the rules and important communications come through the Department of Defense, which led to his team being behind on this year because the group was left out of those important emails. He also shared that throughout the 14 years since the Coast Guard first competed, there were years they weren't funded to compete.
"For a while it was just us and our personal funds keeping it alive," he said.
One year, as an example, they were sponsored by The Coast Guard Foundation. In years past, the chefs competing were mostly those located in Washington, D.C. and the Virginia areas that were close by to the Fort Lee competition because they just couldn't afford to bring in chefs from units throughout the country. He continued saying that "we kept it on life support, waiting for that funding stream to come through."
Jeffries echoed Fuchs statement, saying for years it really was a few of them spending thousands of dollars each to maintain a Coast Guard team.
"The coverage was still there because that was our way of being able to showcase to the right avenues, 'hey we are out here doing awesome stuff and representing the Coast Guard in a great light' … let's fund this thing so we can get other people out here," he said.
They got their wish. The Coast Guard team has been funded for the last two years and this year they were able to bring in chefs from all over the fleet; something they have never been able to do before. And this year's team was a vibrant representation of the force's culinary rate and it made all the difference.
"We've done this for 14 years and every year you think you have a chance (for culinary team of the year) and then it's not you. … It's indescribable, that feeling that you feel when you train a team and they win it. I can't even put into words the pride and the joy watching them go up on stage to receive the award for culinary team of the year," Fuchs said.
"We were celebrating the night before because of how great of a job that everyone did in their own personal competitions. The Coast Guard medaled every competition and we already knew that our Coast Guard Chef of the Year had a shot at Armed Forces Chef of the Year, something that the Coast Guard had never won. There was just already so much to celebrate," Jeffries said.
Both Fuchs and Jeffries describe an "intense" energy in the room after Team Coast Guard was announced as the winner. And so was the respect.