Marham Celebrate Catering Success!

Following on from their impressive performance at this year’s RAF Skills Day, the RAF Marham Catering Flight have excelled once again with a host of medals including 3 ‘Best in Class’honours and an outstanding overall team effort by boththe competitors, mentors and managers at this years Combined Service Culinary Competition (EX JOINT CATERER).
The Tri-Service competition which is held annually at Shrivenham, encourages competitors of all ability and experience to compete through a considered schedule of Novice (under 2 years’ experience), Open (open to any competitor regardless of age or experience) and Senior (more than 2 years’ experience) classes over 3 daysof fierce competition.
Categories include ‘live’ hot cooking in front of a gallery of spectators and under strict timings with chicken, duck, fish, lamb, game, pasta and vegetarian dishes the main focus. Steward Skills classes include flambé’ and napkin folding and the much coveted ‘Cook and Serve’ where both a kitchen and front of house team come together to silver-serve a fine dining 3 course meal for two lucky diners. In the ‘Parade de Chefs’ teams of 4 (3 chefs and a porter) work in a glass kitchen which allows maximum viewing as they prepare, cook and serve a 3 course meal for 80 diners in 7 hours. Outside in the Open Field Catering event, judges examinethequality, creativityand suitability of a 3 course meal prepared for feeding 20 troops in the field. The teams use only the Operational Field Catering System and are issued 2 x 10 man Operational Ration Packs complimented by a small amount of fresh essentials such as onions, potatoes, milk and cream.
‘Culinary Artistry’ is a totally different and challenging discipline compared to the daily routine of a service chef and centres around the production of a Cold Buffet (the premiere team event), platters and plates with all ingredients dipped in aspic and gels to preserve their presentation qualities.This is the most intensely scrutinised of all disciplines given the time and staging allowed with every element under the microscope as mistakes as simple as a finger print on the rim of the plate will cost a team valuable points. In the static area there are a host of decorated cakes, novelty cakes, fat carvings and chocolate centre piece’s with some quite ingenious inventions on show.
The competition is decided by a points tally gained from the winning (Best in Class) of the nominated ‘Blue Ribbon’ classes named above. The Gold, Silver, Bronze and Certificate of Merit’s (COM) awarded by the judges signifies the overall standard produced by the competitor/team and the criteria covers all aspects of delivering the food/service including food hygiene, preparation, organisation, balance of flavours, presentation and overall quality of product. The judges overall scoresare out of 100 with 90+ for Gold, 80+ for Silver, 70+ for Bronze and 55+ for CoM. Withclasses running heats over the 3 days, the judges have to decide on their overall ‘Best in Class’ and finding out the eventual winner can take hours of deliberation; it is not uncommon for two competitors to achieve Gold Medal standard in the same class but only one will win Best in Class and win the points for their Service.
The judges who are members of the World Culinary Judging Association are all volunteers who support the Armed Forces Culinary Competitions and come from all areas of the catering profession including Michelin Star chefs, TV personalities, International Gold Medal Winners, Tri-Service School of Catering Instructors; basically, some of the most highly decorated people within the catering industry.
This year’s team from RAF Marham were also included SAC’s Sewell and Scott who were previously selected for the ‘Open Buffet and deployed to the RAF School of Catering (SoC) at Worthy Down two weeks prior to the event. The RAF team consists of 9 personnel, a Manager, 4 senior team members for whomSAC Sewell is one and 4 supporting team members which included SAC Scott. The Buffet, a quite exquisite piece of culinary artistry even to the untrained eye consisted of 4 elements; 3 x 2 starter and main course plates, 3 x 2 Amuse Bouche, 3 x 2 Sweet plates and a Platter for 8 covers; all of which richly deserved its Gold and Best in Class award.
Whilst at the SoC both SAC’s prepared themselves for an additional class which saw SAC Scott win Gold Best in Class for Open Fish, a perfectly executed ‘Pan-Fried Lemon Sole with Saffron Infused Crushed Potatoes, Iberico Ham Crisp, Wilted Spinach with Peas and a Mustard Buerre Blanc Sauce’.Whilst SAC Sewell entered the Grand Prix Chef of the Year; a class where you receive your mystery box of ingredients 15 mins before starting and present your menu to the judges before beginningpreparation. The most nerve racking of all the classes, he was awarded a highly credible Bronze Medal for a starter of ‘Pan-Fried Grey Mullet floated on a Wild Mushroom, Mussel and Prawn Chowder. His main course consisted of 5-Spice Duck Breast, Duck Bon Bon, Butternut Squash, Kale and Baby Carrots with a Red Wine and Duck Jus’. He finished his meal, all in 90 minutes, with a perfectly set‘Dark Chocolate Ganache, Poached Plums, Plum Syrup and Hazelnut crumb’. Finishing 3rd overall,he was only narrowly beaten by hisfellow Buffet Team member and former RAF Marham Chef Cpl Grime who took theBest in Class witha Silver medal.
SAC Parry who has only been in the RAF for just over a yearwon Silver Best in Class in the Junior Chicken class. He cooked one of Escoffier’s classic sauté dishes, ‘Chicken Cotes de Azor’. The dish is a test of butchery skills as a whole chicken is prepared into 13 pieces, bones cleaned and knuckles removed. Artichokes, fine beans, asparagus and olive potatoes are prepared with measured precision before being cooked in Madeira Demi-Glace Sauce finished with garden peas.
SAC McGonigle won a Silver Medal in the Open Steward Skills. With only 30 mins allowed, she set a table for twoa ’la carte style, presented 3 different napkin folds and using a Gueridon flambé trolley cooked‘Steak Diane withSide Salad’ for 2 diners plus an additional plate for the judges. To finish, she prepared a twist on an Irish Coffee using Honey Jack Daniels.
The Cook & Serve team consisting ofchefs Cpl Hollingsworth and SAC McCreath with Stewardess SAC Weller won a well earnt Bronze medal in the 2 hour class which emulates a fine dining experience. From the initial table setting they go onto greet the diners, serve appropriate drinks to complementeach course andcontinually demonstarting good communication as a team and most importantly with the customers. The menu started with ‘Pan Fried Grouse. Pea Puree, Pickled Beets, Pea Shoots & Truffle Oil’. The Silver-Served main course was ‘Hot Smoked Pork fillet with Carrot Puree, Anna Potatoes, Buttered Kale with Black Pudding and Red Wine Jus’. To finish, a Rich Chocolate Fondant was accompanied by scorched Late Summer Berries, Praline and a Flaming Calvados Sorbet’. All complimented by‘Lagrange le haut Pinot Noir 2013’to start, ‘El CotoRioja 2013’served with the main course and‘Hutcheson Fine Tawny Port Est 1881’’ accompanied the dessert.Finally,filter coffee was servedto signify completion.
LAC Halstead with less than one years’ Service experience competed in the Junior ‘Chef of the Year’ and won a highly meritous Bronze medal. In 75 minutes he prepared, cooked and served ‘Lamb Cutlet Reforme’, which consists ofBread Crumbed ‘French’ trimmed Lamb Cutlets served on a Port Demi Glaze sauce with Julienne (very fine strips) of Tongue, Gherkin, Mushroom, Truffle and Egg White. Again the skills are in the butchery and cooking of the lamb and the knife skills for precision vegetable preparation. To follow, he presented a dessert of his choice, an ‘Apple Tart Tatin with Glazed Pecans, Chantilly Cream, Apple Sorbet, Caramel Sauce and finely decorated with Edible Flowers’.
SAC Warner, a late entry due to an opportune vacancycreated by one of the other Services grasped the opportunity to compete in Open Lamb. With just one practise the afternoon before travelling, he presented a ‘Canon of Lamb served on a Cauliflower Piccalilli Puree with Sweet Potato Cocottes, Romanesque and a Rich Red Wine Sauce’. Unfortunately, in the haste and under the immense pressure of time and a gallery full of cheering spectators he dropped his second plate which cost him vital marks. Thankfully, he was awarded a CoM for the one dish the judges were able to taste and feedback was very positive, leaving him with that ‘what could have been’ feeling I’m sure he will put down to experience when competing in the future.
The time, effort and dedication given by all involved cannot be underestimated, especially Cpl Findon who was given the unenviable task of managing and organising the team, rations, equipment and travel. The use of IX(B) Squadron feeder was a great environment which to practise and gave a realistic scenario of deploying personnel with rations. There were many guests, including Gp Cpt & Mrs Davis and Wg Cdr Portlock who gave their time to samplesome very clever but also not so well thought out initial dishes. All of the feedback helped the team immensely, not just for this competition but for the future too.
Overall the Royal Air Force won a fiercely and tightly fought Combined Service Culinary Competition and RAF Marham Catering Flight contributed significantly with 3 Best in Class, 2 Golds, 2 Silvers 3 Bronze and a CoM. Moving forward we are now preparing 3 chefs for the ISS Chef of the Year to be held at Leatherhead in late November. SAC Sewell, recently selected for promotion, will be competing with the Combined Services Culinary Arts Team as will SAC Scott in a supporting role at the World Culinary Olympics 2016 in Hertford, Germay.

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