Staff Sergeant Kevin Christiansen used his 15 years of experience cooking in various restaurant kitchens to bring home the bragging rights in Fort Campbell’s culinary competition during Week of the Eagles.
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Much like the cooking show “Chopped” on Food Network, contestants were given mystery baskets filled with various food items. They were tasked with putting those ingredients together into a cohesive dishes to impress three judges.
Christiansen and three others faced off in the finals after the competition began with 16 contestants.
Though he is not classically trained, Christiansen impressed the judges by sending out an appetizer round plate that would rival those on Food Network.
“Presentation is probably half the battle,” he explained. “I thought ahead of time of what I could do that was kind of uniform, because I didn’t know what to expect.”
In the 30-minute appetizer round, all the cooks were thrown a curveball in the form of a little-used fish called the Dover Sole, most common to the Mediterranean and North Sea.
Prior to the round, they were given a chance to watch how to properly filet the rarely used protein.
From there, the group was tasked with pairing the fish with snack-size hard pretzels and tomatillos.
It was a challenge for everyone, including Sergeant Jamal Spruill, a cook with the military. He would go on to finish third in the competition.
Finishing second to Christiansen was Captain Carol Jaksec, a home cook who joined the competition to test her skills.
Though none of the cooks had ever dealt with Dover Sole, Jaksec was forced to deal with a bit of adversity at her station as she attempted to turn her tomatillos into a salsa during the first round.
“I’ve never used them before,” Jaksec said of the tomatillos. “I’ve always heard tomatillo salsa, but the blender did not work.”
Thinking on her feet, Jaksec decided to turn her blended salsa into a chunky salsa.
Everybody kind of went in the same direction, according to Jason Page, chief warrant officer and senior food advisor for Fort Campbell.
“The one that stood out was Sergeant Christiansen, who made the coconut fried fish along with the raspberry sauce underneath,” Page said. “It was really quite good.”
Page said all the cooks handled the fish well.
Michelle Owenby was eliminated after the appetizer round because she failed to add a dressing to her salad.
In the entrée round, the cooks were given flank steak, turnip greens and tri-color quinoa.
The dessert finals featured Christiansen and Jaksec.
He won after the two made dishes featuring honey mangos, chocolate chips and animal crackers.