CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Sgt. Hugo P. Zepeda and Lance Cpl. Justin Gordon, food service specialists with Headquarters Squadron, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, took first place during the Marine Corps Installations - West Chef of the Quarter Culinary Competition, Dec. 3.
The 31 Area Mess Hall here hosted the competition with teams from MCAS Yuma, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and Marine Headquarters Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force, taking top honors.
Zepeda, who along with Gordon shared the title of Chef of the Quarter, were awarded medals and priority seats for a two-month course at the Culinary Institute of America.
“When I was growing up, I did not know how to cook and I only started to take an interest when my mom taught me,” said Zepeda, who enlisted as a food service specialist. “I developed a passion for cooking as a young adult and joining the Marine Corps has allowed me to pursue that passion.”
This is the second chef of the quarter competition that MCAS Yuma has won in a row.
“Our secret lies in our leadership,” said Zepeda. “We have a lot of good staff non-commissioned officers who tell us exactly what to do and to go by the book. As long as we do that and work hard, I think we will always be successful.”
The competition began with twelve teams that took verbal and written quizzes, testing their culinary knowledge and proficiency. The top four teams were then assigned three proteins and fresh ingredients to prepare a high-quality menu to use for the cook-off stage.
“This is the second time I’ve participated in the chef of the quarter competition and the first time I’ve won,” said Gordon. “I didn’t pass the written quiz section last time, but I dedicated myself to learning from the past and studied a lot more. It definitely paid off.”
During the cook-off stage, participants were evaluated on kitchen conduct, personal appearance, hygiene and utensil handling skills during the preparatory process. A group of judges assessed the quality, presentation and nutritional content of each of the team’s dishes.
In addition to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awards, the teams were also presented with the People’s Choice and Chef’s Choice awards decided by the audience and food service specialists respectively.
“The most important aspect of the competition isn’t necessarily in winning and receiving recognition,” said Maj. Anthony P. Redman, food service officer with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and master of ceremonies at the event. “The Marines competing all leave with better culinary skills and knowledge of industry standards. They take these skills back to their units where they’re able to serve higher quality food, and in the end, it’s all about serving the best food to the Marines.”