The Combined Services Culinary Arts Team turns 21 this year. Lisa Jenkins visited the Food Services Wing at Worthy Down Barracks in Hampshire to find out just what the armed forces team has in store for this week at Hotelympia
The Combined Services Culinary Arts Team (CSCAT) is made up of 30 of the best chefs serving in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Royal Air Force and the Army. Each member is hand-picked to represent the armed forces in world-class national and international competitions.
Formed in 1997, the purpose of CSCAT is to raise the profile of catering throughout the UK armed forces, to develop individual and team craft skills, and to support the recruitment of personnel into the forces.
Recently, the profile of CSCAT hit an all-time high when its military team marched off with the trophy on the second series of BBC Two's Bake Off: Crème de la Crème. It also took silver for the cold buffet table in 2016 and the gold best in class for La Parade des Chefs (both achieved at Hotelympia), and the cold buffet table double gold and Community Catering Challenge silver (both at the 2016 Culinary Olympics in Erfurt, Germany).
The team are competing at La Parade des Chefs in the International Salon Culinaire at this year's Hotelympia, 5-8 March at ExCeL London. They have been practising for the event since September.
The menu for Hotelympia was developed as a team, according to junior team member Sean Jackson. He says: "Everyone gets some input. We come up with rough ideas and brainstorm them in our sections. Our inspiration comes from our own kitchens, trends, TV and thinking ahead to the seasonality at the time of the competition."
"The menu is a bit different to what we cook back at base," jokes fellow junior team mate Richie Godden. "In our units it's about providing nutritious comfort food. Contrary to popular opinion, we do a lot of special menus, as well as regularly cooking at fine-dining level."
New members to the team are talent-spotted and picked from their individual services. Jamie Helm, one of the younger chefs, says: "People see being a chef in CSCAT as part of their skills development and growth."
Chefs in the armed forces will receive a mix of service and skills training, and generally join up from the age of 17, although new recruits can be in their twenties. Female and male chefs are recruited straight from school, from colleges and some with existing experience in restaurants and hotels.
Every chef will go through a programme of basic training, which lasts 17 weeks on average. "It's a leveller for everyone," says junior team member Aaron Kenny. If you've come in from the industry, you're taken back to basics, and that can be frustrating. You definitely need staying power."
Andrew Durham (Royal Navy), based at HMS Raleigh, and Stefan Sewell (Royal Air Force), based at Worthy Down in Hampshire, are both chef-instructors for the team. They teach small groups of chefs, between four and nine students up to NVQ level 2. Navy chefs will finish their courses with an NVQ, while the RAF training is more apprenticeship-based, finishing with a year of college.
After initial training the chefs are sent back to their parent unit, which could be anywhere in the world.
Sewell adds: "Chef-instructors are excused deployment duties for their time as educators, and it is definitely a pinnacle chef level."
Once a year, chefs from the various forces will compete at Exercise Joint Caterer, a three-day event designed to provide caterers, chefs and stewards of all three services with a competition that further develops their culinary skills, nurtures professional achievement and builds team spirit. There are a variety of individual and team live classes in the practical cookery theatre as well as an open field cookery competition and static culinary displays.
Military chef and CSCAT manager Andy Saupe and his counterparts across the services are always on the look-out for new members of the team. Once you are part of CSCAT, preparing for a competition like Hotelympia entails decamping to Worthy Down for practice, which involves live run-throughs with volunteer guests. They complete around eight weeks of practice a year.
"Life as a services chef is good," says Helm. "It's a good career: we get to travel the world, the wages are great, we have lots of downtime and we don't usually work at weekends. The downside, of course, is being away from home and your family when on manoeuvres - but that's what we sign up for."
In this, a period of relative peace, deployment has been less regular, but they say that when they are deployed: "We just cook and do our jobs."
Meet the 2018 Combined Services Culinary Arts Team
Chairman Captain Shaun Collins-Lindsay (Army).
Manager Warrant officer class 2 Andy Saupe (Army). Saupe joined CSCAT in 2014 and was part of the gold-winning team at Luxembourg 2014 and Hotelympia 2016.
Logistics manager Flight sergeant Kev Cooper (Royal Air Force).
Amuse-bouche, cold Sergeant Tristan Merrick (Royal Marines) and sergeant Chris Beavis (Royal Air Force). Beavis has competed at one Culinary Olympics and represented CSCAT at the Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg in 2014.
Starters, hot: Leading chef Andrew Durham (Royal Navy), corporal Paul Harper (Army), lance corporal Donna Cox (Army) and sergeant Paul Henderson (Army). Henderson has been with CSCAT since 2008 and represented the team at the Culinary World Cup in Luxembourg 2014, winning gold and placed fourth in the world.
Mains, hot Leading chef Ryan Ashall (Royal Navy and corporal Rob Donnelly (Royal Air Force).
Pastry Leading chef Shane Rixon (Royal Fleet Auxiliary), leading chef Thomas Andrews (Royal Navy), warrant officer class 2 Lynette Marston (Army), lance corporal Richie Godden (Army), lance corporal Vrinder Tushria (Army), lance corporal Laura Chapman (Army) and corporal Chris Morrell (Royal Air Force).
Platters Assistant chef Marc Reed (Royal Fleet Auxiliary).
Platters, cold Corporal Rachyel Ainsworth (Army).
Plates Sergeant Vicky Fowler (Army).
Plates, cold Corporal Alisha Henderson (Army) and corporal Stefan Sewell (Royal Air Force). Sewell won gold best in class at Hotelympia 2016 at La Parade des Chefs.
Junior members Able seaman Claire Forster (Royal Navy), able seaman Charlie Hall (Royal Navy), apprentice chef Michelle Hook (Royal Fleet Auxiliary), apprentice chef Jamie Helm (Royal Fleet Auxiliary), senior aircraftman Leigh Mcgill (Royal Air Force), senior aircraftman Aaron Kenny (Royal Air Force), senior aircraftman Sean Jackson (Royal Air Force) and senior aircraftman Sean Banks (Royal Air Force).
Head of hot kitchen Corporal Liam Dummelow (Royal Air Force).
English National Team Corporal Ian Mark (Royal Air Force). Mark was part of the 2016 Hotelympia winning team as head pastry chef and is now part of the English National Team.
Head of cold table Corporal Dave Davey-Smith (Royal Air Force). Davey-Smith is team vice-captain and controlled the main course for La Parade des Chefs gold best in class at Hotelympia 2016.
Team captain and pastry section Corporal Liam Grime (Royal Air Force). Grime has led the last three major competitions - at Hotelympia, the Hospitality Show and the Luxembourg Culinary World Cup, winning gold at all events.
The menu for La Parade des Chefs at Hotelympia 2018
Starter Confit Alaskan salmon, grilled langoustine, fennel purée and gel, salmon belly tartare, compressed cucumber heart, pickled Spartan apple and cucumber powder
Main 60-day, dry-aged Doom Bar-braised Jacob's Ladder, beef dripping potato, mushroom purée, Chanterelles and watercress, baby carrot, pickled onion ketchup, beef tendon crisp, beef and ale sauce
Dessert White chocolate set cream, passion fruit jelly, toasted coconut meringue, caramelised salt-baked pineapple, Jamaican ginger cake, lime gel, passion fruit curd and pineapple sorbet
The squad that seized the Crème de la Crème high ground
The second series of BBC Two's Bake Off: Crème de la Crème, was broadcast last year, came to an end in July after nine episodes, with the military team marching off with the trophy.
Team captain RAF corporal Liam Grime, RAF chef corporal Ian Mark (known as Bear) and RAF chef-instructor and corporal Chris Morrell triumphed in the final episode, which was filmed at country estate Firle Place in East Sussex.
The final eight-hour challenge saw the chefs produce a military-themed showpiece and individual desserts, which were served to more than 100 guests in the Great Hall for a party hosted by Lord and Lady Gage.
The competition was judged by Benoit Blin, executive pastry chef at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, and Cherish Finden, former executive pastry chef at the Langham, London.
Grime, Mark and Morrell said that the best thing about being in the show was that it had given them an opportunity to test themselves against quality pastry chefs from the civilian pastry sector and "showcase what military chefs can do".
Grimes told The Caterer: "We all had different strengths. My strength is leading teams and getting everyone to step up a gear when needed. Bear is the ideas man with the artistic thought process, and Chris is an absolute workhorse. Each of us displayed different talents in pastry work and brought it all together in the end."
A year on from winning the competition, Grimes and Mark believe it helped to raise the profile of military chefs. "The show took military chefs to another level and helped the general public to understand what our chefs are capable of - hopefully there is now more awareness of it as another career students can consider," says Mark.
Post-show the chefs had to "crack on" with their day jobs, although Grimes has since competed at Wessex Culinaire, the Master of Culinary Arts competition and the 2017 National Chef of the Year, where he reached the semi-final.
Mark also competed at Wessex Culinaire and was shortlisted as a finalist in the 2017 UK Chocolate Masters. He was awarded the Craft Guild of Chefs' Armed Services Chef Award in June 2017 and was selected as a member of the English National Culinary team.
"We've achieved a great deal as military chefs and now it's about proving our skills in the industry," says Grimes. "We can do fine dining and compete at that level.
Mark agrees: "We both have a lot of experience with pastry work but we can cook everything else too, and we've both won RAF Chef of the Year in the past. When we're under pressure we have the right positive mental attitude and we just get on with it. That always serves us well in competitions."
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