Story and Photo by
Sgt. Karl Williams
25th Infantry Division Public Affairs
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Kaneohe Bay — The Koolau Mountain Range served as a scenic backdrop for a friendly competition between service members from across Hawaii as they competed in the “Iron Chef America” culinary contest, here, Dec. 4.
Culinary teams were assembled pitting Iron Chef Michael Symon and Spc. Oscar Alvarado, food service specialist, Headquarters Support Company, 209th Aviation Support Battalion, 25th Combat Avn. Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, against Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and Lance Cpl. Eva Castillo, food specialist, Headquarters Bn.; and Iron Chef Cat Cora and Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Downey, culinary specialist, Navy Region-Hawaii and Surface Group Middle Pacific.
Alvarado said this contest was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to showcase his abilities.
“I love cooking,” Alvarado said. “I told myself one day I would be cooking on television, but I never thought it would happen so soon, and not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine it would be cooking with Michael Symon. It was by far the best part of the experience for me. Not many people get that opportunity.”
Hosted by Food Network personality Alton Brown, this episode of the show is tentatively scheduled to air next season on the Food Network.
After unveiling the secret ingredient, which will remain a secret until the show airs, Mark Dacascos, or “The Chairman” as he is known on the series, kicked off the program with his familiar line: “So now America, with an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you in the words of my uncle, ‘Allez cuisine!’”
Teams received an hour to prepare three dishes using the secret ingredient, plus the use of anything from the stocked food pantry.
Alvarado, who won the 2011 U.S. Army-Pacific Cook Off, said cooking on an open grill outside presented additional challenges.
“With the smoke and heat from the grill, and the flames licking out and singeing the hair on my arms, I would not have wanted to be anywhere else,” Alvarado said.
As the minutes ticked by, chefs and sous chefs raced back and forth across the Marine Corps’s flight line – near Hanger 101, which served as “Kitchen Stadium” – to gather ingredients or seasoning they hoped would lead their teams to victory.
Judges Daniel Dae Kim, star of Hawaii Five-O; Sunny Anderson, host of the Food Network’s show “Cooking for Real”; and Simon Majumdar, a judge on the network’s show “The Next Iron Chef,” sampled each dish and judged them on taste, originality, presentation and use of the secret ingredient.
During the judging, Brown questioned Alvarado about being paired up with Michael Symon.
“Today was a great opportunity for me to learn from Chef Michael,” he said. “Watching the way he went about preparing and plating each dish with such elegance was by far, one of the best lessons I could have asked for.”
Whatever the outcome, Alvarado believes his military brethren enjoyed themselves.
“It was a great competition that enhanced the camaraderie between service members from different branches of the U.S. military,” Alvarado said.