FORT BRAGG, N.C. --
The kitchen sits quiet. Ovens and stoves are still cold. Ladles and pots are still clean, glinting from the luminescent lighting at the Culinary Arts Training Center here.
It’s the first day of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2018 All American Week, and a select few culinary specialists assigned to the division start it off strong with a chef competition, relieving all silence.
Four teams, one from each of the brigades, bustle through the kitchen making last-minute preparations before cooking a three-course meal they must present to a panel of judges, including the division commander, Army Maj. Gen. Erik Kurilla, and popular New York chef and business owner of “Folded Napkin Events,” David Autry.
One competitor, Army Sgt. Daniela Archbold, a culinary specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 307th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, organizes her team and prepares them for the events to unfold.
“The hardest part of my job is the preparation,” Archbold said. “Without the proper practice and preparation, you might go into the kitchen blindly or get scared you might mess up.”
This day was no different; her team only had one day to practice their dishes. Archbold said the competition is a side-tasking, and her normal duties at the 1st BCT dining facility will always come first. With that said, the lack of training for these new dishes didn’t slow Archbold down or hinder her confidence.
Her soldier-chef teammates, Staff Sgt. Zachary Mateau, Spc. Louis Mancilla, and Spc. Puthoameapheakdey Kao, all assigned to 1st BCT, prepare their stations while Archbold explains her love for cooking.
“I found my inspiration from my mother,” Archbold said. “I was always helping her as a child, helping chop up vegetables and doing little things here and there. She always cooked every meal from scratch, and I learned from that.”
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Spanish cooking was Archbold’s primary style of food, even after moving to Houma, Louisiana, at age 9.
“My mother owned a small Hispanic grocery store,” she said. “So I made a lot of Spanish dishes, most of my experience growing up was Hispanic-oriented.”
Her love for cooking has led to another year of competing during All American Week, winning first place the year prior, her confidence now boosted to a higher level.
As the competition continued, the entire kitchen burst into sounds of commands from all four teams. Archbold's team remained calm, as she instructed the duties of each paratrooper-chef so all three courses could cook simultaneously.
“She is driven and motivated,” Mateau said of Archbold. “This competition was a credit to her; this was her show.”
“She put together the menu, put together all of the practices. This was her baby. And she just ran with it,” he added.
Archbold chose three dishes she knew the judges would love. First, for the appetizer, she chose a spring mix salad with a ginger carrot dressing.
For the entree, they cooked a chicken roulade with a garlic onion reduction sauce.
A molten-chocolate lava cake followed for dessert.
“I like to see the smile on people’s faces when they look at and taste our food,” Archbold said after serving the judges. “I like the satisfaction I get when I make something, and someone is enjoying it. I feel like I've accomplished something.”
Once the cooking is complete, Archbold and her team begin to clean as the judges evaluate and score all the dishes based on presentation, taste and technique.
The scores are in; four teams wait to hear the final judgment. The winning brigade is, once again, 1st Brigade.
Autry saluted Archbold’s team and her cooking.
“You have a lot of talent here,” he said. “Being a young cook, this is just a step in the journey. There is a lot to offer in the future of cooking if she wants to pursue it.”
Now winning two years in a row, Archbold is already thinking about next year’s competition and the possible dishes.
“I'm happy it’s over, and we won,” Archbold said. “We could have done better, but that’s OK, because I think you get better as you go. Regardless how experienced you think you are or how many times you have done it, there will always be mistakes. You are always cooking new things, and that’s what we did. We got out of our comfort zone and we tried to be better than what we normally are.”
This year’s 82nd Airborne Division All American Week, the 29th, began May 21 and concludes today. The event, which features competitive contests, military capability demonstrations and more, celebrates paratroopers and the division’s storied history.