Stepping up to the plate!

With RAF Marham’s history of fielding an abundance of competitive chefs and caterers, who have between them achieved virtually all of the awards and accolades available, it was time to submit a few more for the annual Royal Air Force Culinary Arts Competition. Unfortunately many of the Flight’s competition stalwarts had been recently posted or deployed, so it fell to myself, SAC Stef Sewell, to take up captaincy of the team, along with Sgt Woollett as Team Manager and Cpl Findon as Logistics Manager.

The annual competition is held every year at Worthy Down Barracks, where Caterers and Chefs complete all their respective training courses throughout their careers. Units from all over the RAF compete, which provides a good chance to catch up with previous colleagues and old friends, and to compete against them, putting any banter there may be between us to rest!

RAF Marham benefits from a very strong interest in competing across all 3 messes, and through the hard work of our SNCOs and the fantastic team who stay behind to keep everything running, we are able to take part in competitions like this every year: A testament to the character of our section and the station as a whole.

Along with the respective classes entered, the team consisted of:

• SAC Sewell (Senior Grand Prix)
• A/Cpl McGonigle (Open Steward)
• SAC Holmes (Open Steward)
• SAC Scott (Open Lamb and Open Fish)
• SAC Jaegar (Open Chicken)
• SAC McCreath (Open Game)
• LAC Anderton (Junior Steward)
• LAC Parry (Junior Chicken)
• Cpl Hollingsworth, SAC McCreath and SAC Weller (Cook and Serve)

With the team decided, Sgt Woollett, Cpl Findon and myself sat down and established our aim, quite simply: to achieve an outstanding result for the Culinary Team of RAF Marham.

With the commitment of a dedicated team, we planned menus, practised dishes (several times) and thanks to the support of 12/31 Sqn, who allowed us the use of their feeder for runthroughs, we were just about ready to go. A few hiccups along the way (such as forgetting our ingredients) followed by some excellent advice and critique, and we were finally ready to set off for Worthy Down.

The first day of the competition arrived and first up ‘to the plate’ was young LAC Parry with his Junior Chicken class. Despite a few nervous run-throughs, Parry’s potential and the arrival of his Mum kicked him up a gear! He produced a fantastic dish which resulted in a Gold medal and a very proud Mum! Huge congratulations to him on what was only his second competition, and thanks to Cpl Findon for taking the time and effort to mentor him.

Next up was LAC Anderton in her first ever competition: A Caesar Salad with a non-alcoholic cocktail. LAC Anderton showed her professionalism throughout, coming away with a very well deserved Silver medal.

A/Cpl McGonigle was up next with the Open Steward class. She showed her experience throughout the competition period and produced a fantastic Lamb flambé salad, coming away with a Bronze medal and sincere thanks from the whole team for her work producing all of the competitors’ menus. A/Cpl Monigle also received the Royal Air Force Gold Scholarship Award for her outstanding work in reaching the regional finals of the national event, competing against the best stewards from across the UK – the first member of the RAF to do so.

SAC Holmes also competed in the Open Steward class. Short on time and with no previous practises under her belt, Holmes returned from holiday in Thailand inspired by the local cuisine. Using this as influence she settled on her menu of a King Prawn Thai Salad. A few hasty practises later and the tasty dish earned her a brilliant Silver medal.

SAC Scott competed in Open Fish and Open Lamb, the latter very last minute due to a team member dropping out; despite stepping in late in the day, he won a Certificate of Merit. The moment I tried his fish dish however, I knew it was an outright winner. A few tweaks and his Lemon Sole won an easy Gold medal and Best in Class.

SAC Jaegar competed in Open Chicken. His enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge were boundless, and after numerous practises and cooking his extremely patient wife chicken every night, he went into the competition full of confidence. Despite being SAC Jaeger’s first competition he came away with a well-earned Silver medal.

SAC McCreath competed in the Open Game class. In the run up to the competition this started looking like a tasty show, with some big names in RAF cooking and a few old competitive rivalries. As well as a healthy dose of banter against fellow competitors, SAC McCreath casually served up an excellent dish of fresh wood pigeon, being rewarded with a well-deserved Bronze medal for his efforts.

I was up next, competing in the Senior Grand Prix; in this class a box of mystery ingredients is provided at the start and the chefs must produce a three course meal for two covers from its contents. Before the competition there are generally a lot of rumours as to which ingredients might be in the box, ranging to anything from live eels to squirrel. With a strong set of experienced competitors, this provides a great show for those watching on. From the start my nerves were all over the place to the stage that, at one point whilst weighing ingredients, I was forced to ask watching team mates, “What’s 1% of 100?!”

Once underway I settled in and after a hot, gruelling 2 hours finally produced my meal, ultimately coming away with a very hard fought silver medal. Only then did I learn that I’d been 3 points off Gold. That’ll teach me to rush my starter.

Finally our Cook and Serve team: Cpl Hollingsworth, SAC McCreath and SAC Weller. This is a team of two chefs and one steward who provide a three course meal and silver service to two diners. This team worked hard from the off, working very well together and it seemed clear they would perform well on the day. They put in long hours outside of work time and I watched the great progress of the dishes along the way. The slog paid off and they were not disappointed, coming away with a fantastic Silver medal.

In addition to the tremendous results of our individuals, RAF Marham Catering also received an additional award as the Best Supporting Unit within field catering. This is solely down to the huge effort the staff put into their annual field catering training, along with our Catering Flight’s support and quick response setting up field kitchens in short order in any circumstance, as required on a number of emergency occasions over the past few years.

I would like to personally say a big well done and thank you to RAF Marham’s Culinary Team. Everybody came away with a medal and seeing them achieve such amazing results made me truly proud to be Captain of such a fantastic team. I would especially like to pay thanks to our managers, Sgt Woollett and Cpl Findon, for their tireless work and commitment in getting us to that point.

Finally to all of the staff in all of the messes at RAF Marham, for supporting the team at home and away, and to the management for their continued support to these events.

Now on to Shrivenham, and the Combined Services Competition in October!