There’s more to Catering in the Armed Forces than just Ration Packs

When you think about food in the armed services the thing which probably first comes to mind is ration packs. And of course cooking for the troops while out on operation is an important part of the job for any chef in the forces, there’s a whole lot more to their skill set.

And earlier in the year, dozens of chefs proved just how versatile you need to be to have a career cooking in the armed services at the annual Tri-services cook off which was held at the Defence Academy in Shrivenham, Wiltshire.

Every year talented chefs and stewards from the Army, Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force go head to head in the multi-faceted three-day-long contest which tests them to their culinary limits, proving that there’s more to forces catering than bully beef and packets of pudding.

The focus for the event is operational catering and demonstrates the ways in which military caterers can support operational commanders while continuing to contribute to the moral component of fighting power and over the course of the three days competitors from all three of the Forces go head-to-head in a wide range of classes each designed to test a different skill.

Tri Services CanapesClasses include everything from preparing platters of canapes and cake decorating, to cooking against the clock and front of house service and even crafting intricate sculptures from lard, as well as field catering competitions and the main event – a full-blown three course meal for 80 people, known as the Parade de Chefs.

And it’s not just their colleagues that the chefs have to impress. Judges for the contest come from a range of backgrounds, both military and civilian, and their backgrounds range from Tri-service subject matter experts and eminent chefs from hotels and organisations around the country.
In the months leading up to contest, the competitors dedicate many hours to practicing, tasting, experimenting and perfecting their dishes in order to be selected to go forward to the competition.

Tri Services SculptureLieutenant Colonel Nigel Shepherd, Head of Defence Food Services, said: “Exercise Joint Caterer is about allowing chefs from the Navy, Army and Air Force to compete against each other as a way of driving standards ever higher. It is all geared to improving standards on operations. Particularly as in the field area, the chefs must prepare dishes under time pressure to transform the ten-man ration packs into a superb suite of menus that are unrecognisable from ingredients with which they started.

“The Exercise also provides a unique opportunity for the service personnel to further hone their craft skills, compete at the highest level and demonstrate to the wider military community what a fantastic asset they are.”