Story by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Frost
PACIFIC OCEAN — If the ingredients of inventiveness, creativity, adventure with a dash of courage were prepared together, the dish would be Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Andrea Sison.
Being a kitchen expert was not Sison’s first professional role, but since she put on the apron she has proven her talent. She never imagined herself stepping into an unfamiliar country to test her skills against other competitors, but she was ready when the time came.
“I became a culinary specialist to explore a new field” said Sison, from Valejo, Calif. “I made the right decision. Learning new things is the best part of being a culinary specialist.”
When Sison first received the invitation at compete in Joint Exercise Caterer, in Shrivenham, England, she was guarded. She knew the pressure having participated in other competitions, and she didn’t want to put herself into another food fight.
Joint Exercise Caterer pitted 10 U.S. Navy Sailors, six from commands in the U.S. and four stationed in Italy, against their Royal Navy counterparts. Entering a new arena, Sison was nervous about the competition.
Senior Chief Culinary Specialist Edward Kulp, from Slatington, Pa., food service’s leading chief petty officer, played off Sison’s thirst to learn and experience new things when she doubted whether she should compete.
“I told her it would be something new, something different,” said Kulp. “I knew she would like the new experiences. She doesn’t shy away from a challenge… She lets everything come out in her food.”
When Sison set off to the competition she knew it was not going to be a vacation. She came to compete. Not only was she competing in unfamiliar territory, but she also had to cater to an entirely different style of service, including using silverware to plate food for the diners.
“I’ve competed before,” said Sison, “but this was completely different. The most difficult part was learning silver serving, which isn’t something I would normally do. The first time I practiced at it was two days before the competition.”
Once it kicked off, her confidence in her team helped her settle into her role at the open cook and serve. That role involved preparing a table, greeting and seating two guests, serving an appetizer, main course and dessert. Sison was her team’s steward, which is a standard culinary position in the Royal Navy.
As a steward, she had no more than 15 minutes to set up for the guests, prepare the tablecloth, cutlery, glasses and anything else necessary for a pleasurable dining experience designed to impress the judges. Timing was key in greeting the diners, seating them and explaining the menu so it coincided with serving the appetizer.
“To earn a good score as a steward, communication is key,” she said. “You have to be courteous and friendly to put on a good show for the diners as well as tracking the chef’s progress in the kitchen. Attention to detail is very important.”
Sison had a successful first day of the competition, earning a silver medal, but that was not what really made her glad she came. Between her times competing, she was working side-by-side with Royal Navy sailors, supporting all the teams.
“I realized I made the right choice to join the competition once I started learning new things I’d be able to bring back,” she said. “The best part was meeting other people from a different culture. I worked together with Royal Navy sailors and learned a lot about how they do their jobs. They’re disciplined workers and very serious about teamwork.”
On the last day of competition Sison was unexpectedly thrown back into the fray to shore up a short-handed team. Once again she took on the challenge.
Sison walked away from the competition with both silver and bronze medals, but in the end it was the experience she gained that made the competition worth it.
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