Exercise SAFFRON 2018

Cpl Ivy Hawco of 37 Service Battalion in action during Exercise SAFFRON 2018 at Royal Artillery Park, Halifax, on March 24, 2018.

Military and civilian teams battle to create gourmet dishes on Exercise SAFFRON 2018

By Capt Felix Odartey-Wellington,
36 Canadian Brigade Group Public Affairs

“Confit de Canard.” “Scallops with Butternut Squash Caponata.”

These are dishes ordinarily found in the high-end eateries for which downtown Halifax is famous but you would have found comparable fare being prepared in four spartan mobile kitchen trailers (MKTs) parked in Royal Artillery Park, literally cheek-by-jowl with Halifax’s finest food establishments during Ex SAFFRON 2018, 5th Canadian Division’s challenging black box culinary competition.

On March 24, 2018, six teams, each pairing a CAF Reserves cook with a partner from Nova Scotia Community College’s (NSCC’s) Culinary Arts program, armed themselves to prepare gourmet dishes in the MKTs.

CPO1 Jeffery Bromley, one of the organizing staff members, explained that, “As the saying goes, ‘An army marches on its stomach,’ and cooks in the military work long hours so that on land, at sea and in the air, CAF personnel can enjoy nutritious meals. With these MKTs, we are able to provide fresh delicious meals in the field during exercises or in theatre.”

Typical of black box competitions, ingredients were revealed to contestants only just before the competition began. According to Alain “Kilted Chef” Bosse, one of the judges, all the fresh produce was local.

“Apples, squash, scallops, duck, and for a curve ball, 45 minutes in, popcorn as an extra ingredient. They had to produce three courses of the quality you’ll find in a high-end restaurant, but with no electricity or running water, simulating field conditions. That is what makes the competition exciting.”

NSCC Akerley student Kelly-Jo Beck agreed. “This was my first time in this competition and it was totally positive. The equipment was really challenging and the space was cramped with lots of people. You don’t realize how much can be done in the trailers and I’m blown away to know that you can feed up to 150 people from one trailer. Frankly, I didn’t know much about the role of cooks in the CAF until this competition. I’m now looking into joining the Reserves.”

Teams were judged on criteria including creativity and quality, ability to improvise, teamwork and presentation skills. At the end of eight grueling hours, Daniel Hauphman of NSCC Lunenburg and Cpl Yuri Belyi of 37 Service Battalion in St John’s, N.L., took the first prize.

Their entrée was pan-seared shrimp and scallop with chili and chipotle butter sauce, pan-fried sweet potato discs with honey glaze, raspberry-caramel popcorn, buttered carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Cpl Belyi, full of praise for his fire-team partner’s professionalism and team spirit, described their win as “a pleasant surprise because of the high quality of talent we were competing against.”

Hauphman was similarly impressed, noting, “This is my second year competing and I won the top prize with Corporal Belyi, so second time’s a charm.”

Outlining their battle plan, he said, “Hopefully, we hooked the judges from the beginning with an appetizer of squash purée with pan-fried duck leg wrapped in filo pastry, and sautéed asparagus in butter. Apart from that and our shrimp and scallop entrée, we also served a dessert of apple crumble with a brown sugar and graham cracker crumb base, sautéed apples in brown sugar, maple syrup and cinnamon with nutmeg, topped with raspberry caramel popcorn.”

“My first experience working shoulder-to-shoulder with the military was great, so I came again this year,” he added.

This is indeed the sweet scent of success for Chef Bosse. “This exercise is meant to give civilian cooks a glimpse of what the military does, and this is what brings me back every year,’ he said. “The feedback is good.”