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Soldiers and Airmen compete in second annual TAG culinary challenge

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Butterfield
  • 150th Special Operations Wing

The New Mexico Army and Air National Guard culinary teams faced off for the second annual Adjutant General’s culinary challenge during May’s unit training assembly. And for the second time in a row the NMANG’s 150th Force Support Squadron Services team took first place out of the four teams. The Power Puff girls prepared a menu of grilled stuffed mushrooms, pineapple teriyaki glazed salmon and layered strawberry shortcake. All the teams had to prepare an appetizer, main course and dessert.

But it wasn’t just about competition. All the cooks involved spent the week together training and learning new cooking techniques to include knife skills, meat fabrication and new recipes. They worked out of the Wyoming Armory kitchen before the competition moved to Kirtland and the 150th Special Operations Wing campus.

“I'm feeling very excited about getting to come back a second time and hopefully take first again and creating a good name for the Air Guard. It's been an honor working with 92 golfs (food service specialists) on the Army side, just seeing how they operate and how they work,” said Airman 1st Class Diana Gallegos, the only repeat competitor from last year. Her teammates were Airmen 1st Class Daisia Martinez and Samantha Gurule.

The Soldiers and Airmen were also coached by professional chef Peter O’Brien during their training. O’Brien, who has a 30-year culinary career, co-owns High Mountain Cuisine with his wife in Santa Fe.

Not only did they have a well-known culinary guide, they had big names judging the competition as well, including New Mexico’s new adjutant general, Brig. Gen. Miguel Aguilar.

“I certainly appreciate what they were doing, adding to their skill set which gives them the opportunity to offer more to the people they serve, whether it's an expeditionary in the field or in our facilities,” said Aguilar. “It's important our Troops get the best prepared food they can because they deserve every bit of it.”

“I was a little worried about judging this thing because my palate doesn’t have a lot of range in it and I knew there were going to be things that I typically don’t eat,” said Aguilar. “My wife Christine is here, and she’ll tell you that when I don’t want to eat something, I just don’t eat it. But today I did, and it was actually some of the best stuff that I have tried in a while,” said Aguilar. “We don’t always recognize and thank our cooks who get up way before anybody else, work longer than anyone else and then go to bed before anyone else. What you guys do is absolutely amazing. I hope that the last few days was kind of a treat in that respect.”

Even though this is only the second year of the training and competition, the organizers are looking to expand upon it and even invite other states to participate.

“Yeah, and we should. This is one of the things that that I've looked for and encouraged over the last couple of years and we'll continue to do it. Great prepared food leads to happy Soldiers and Airmen. Our cooks play a vital role in in the morale and spirit of our Soldiers and Airmen,” said Aguilar.

And the two-time champion Gallegos said she is not worried about competing with other states. “I’m feeling very confident and very proud to bring back another first place trophy. There is no food like New Mexican food.”