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Eglin Airmen experience fine dining in Napa

By Leigh Shirah
Eglin Dispatch staff writer
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, FLA. - Chow hall or mess hall, call it what you may. Neither typically conjures up images of fine dining, but soon Eglin's Breeze Dining Facility will be serving up some new cuisine that will tempt the taste buds.

The Hennessy Travelers Association's Educational Foundation recently gave 50 Air Force food service members the culinary opportunity of a lifetime.

Eglin's Breeze Dining Facility sent eight of their own Airmen to California for a week-long stay at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel for classroom and hands-on training at the Culinary Institute of America.

Eglin was named the 2006 Hennessy Trophy winner in the multiple-facility category, and Staff Sgt. Cinnamon Calloway was named the 2006 Air Force Level Award winner for Hennessy Travelers Association Award of Excellence.

Dave Mickler, 96th Services Squadron food services officer, said that the food services members were selected for "their culinary expertise that they are showing here and their attitude toward their career field."

The first day in California, the 50 food service members were taken to the Napa and Sonoma Farm Trail and Winery Tours. They were then treated to dinner at Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant.

The Breeze staff quickly found themselves having to adjust to the challenges of new spaces and recipes.

"When we first got in the kitchen, it was kind of hard to adapt to someone else's kitchen and not knowing where everything was. That was the hardest part," said Staff Sgt. Cinnamon Calloway, 96th SVS.

"Also, cooking with ingredients that we can't even pronounce," added Airman 1st Class Jose Cardoza.

They were taught Asian, Latin American and Mediterranean cuisine, just to name a few.

Some of the events that took place during the Culinary Institute of America's Education Project included wine, cheese and olive oil tasting, lectures and food service industries CEO panel discussions.

Another important lecture they attended was about nutrition and how to make healthy and flavorful meals taught by a chef-instructor and the Culinary Institute of America staff nutritionist.

The food service members spent 13 hours a day learning their craft, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., for which they received five Continuing Education Units from the Culinary Arts Institute.

The students literally worked for their dinner. Everything that the students prepared each day went on a buffet served to them as that night's meal.

Sergeant Calloway said she would like to try some of the new meals at the next Airman Appreciation or birthday meal, to see how the new cuisine will be received.

"It is different cooking; it is something that I don't think a lot of people have tried, yet," she said.

Professional chefs at the school judged their cooking and gave them feedback.

"I had a couple of them come back and tell me that I could call them chef," Mr. Mickler said.

What makes this project especially unique is that it was not paid for by the military at all. The Hennessy Travelers Association covered flights, hotels, tuition and meals, with the help of sponsors such as American Express, Ecolab and Ventura Foods, LLC.

"I think the industry has realized there is a great talent out there in the military," Mr. Mickler said. "One of the keys that I saw from the CEO's, was that they wanted to show the military their appreciation for what they are doing for the country and that was one of the key things that motivated them to get on board."

According to the Hennessy Travelers Association Web site, the award is to "promote excellence in customer service and food service support within the Air Force through quality improvements, recommendations and information exchange with industry partners.

The want to inspire high morale, motivation, mission support, and a professional image through an annual spirited competition selecting the "Best of the Best" within Air Force Food Service."

"I had a great time and I want to go back next year ... please," said Airman 1st Class Glenn Little.


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