By Army National Guard Spc. Zachary T. Sheely Colorado National Guard
DENVER (1/18/12) - When people think of Army chow, a boxed lunch or a Meal, Ready-to-Eat may come to mind, which is why Army Capt. Mark Tommell, commander of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 135th General Support Aviation, has enlisted the services of a professional chef and culinary instructor to teach his food service specialists the tricks of the trade - changing the way his Soldiers feel about chow.
Chef Ronald Lavallee, a culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales University, and Army Sgt. Shannon Roppolo, a food service specialist and shift leader with Company E, 2nd Battalion,135th General Support Aviation, strategize over a recipe at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., Jan. 7. 2012. Lavallee works with the troops during drill on a volunteer basis to teach them advanced culinary techniques. (Army National Guard photo by Spc. Zachary Sheely)
Chef Ronald Lavallee, a culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales University, is a Vietnam veteran with 45 years in the food service industry. He's been working with the cooks of Company E since autumn 2011, and since Tommell called on him for assistance, the Soldiers tend to stick around for lunch on drill weekends.
Not only has the quality of food improved, it's also much cheaper for the company than paying for civilian catering services to deliver food to Buckley Air Force Base on drill weekends.
"When an Army National Guard company orders catered meals, they receive $10.50 to spend for each Soldier," Tommell said. "We cook this food here with fresh produce and herbs for $3.72 per Soldier. With around 200 Soldiers in the company, we're saving just under $7 per Soldier, which averages out to about $1,400 per drill that we're saving on meals."
The improvement in food quality is a force multiplier, and the improved quality and savings is coming at no extra cost to the company, he said.
Lavallee works with the troops on a volunteer basis.
"My offering to the commander is to spend a minimum of 30 days with this unit to help them build and refine their techniques," Lavallee said. "I'm teaching fundamental techniques such as cutting vegetables the proper way to more advanced techniques such as braising, stewing, sautÃ©ing and roasting in the type of environment that they will be in.
"The objective is to prepare the food as expeditiously as possible, but correct in terms of proper methodology to get from point A to Z in a timely fashion with the correct product. In a field situation, you want to take the straightest line to accomplish your objective, because you certainly don't want to be wasting time."
Tommell, a graduate of Johnson & Wales, wishes to further Company E's relationship with the university to advance his Soldiers' culinary skills, and wants to see additional training with the school.
Food service specialists in the Army are given entry-level culinary training at their follow-on school after basic training, but Lavallee brings an "upscale flair" to the training and meals, said Army Sgt. Shannon Roppolo, a food service specialist and shift leader.
"No other Colorado Army National Guard company has a chef instructor from one of the best culinary colleges in America," she said. "And for him to be here is a privilege and an honor for us."