FORT STEWART, Ga. – A passion for cooking and an enriching environment in which to do so, have written the recipe for success for Pfc. Aaron Vegh.
The food service specialist, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, is serving as the alternate on the Marne Division’s culinary student team, which was recognized in March at the 37th Military Culinary Arts Competition at Fort Lee, Va.
Vegh helped the team walk away with 21 gold medals and played a pivotal role in Fort Stewart, Ga., earning the coveted Installation of the Year award—the first time food specialists have earned the title for Fort Stewart.
Vegh and the four members of the team are preparing for a second, more challenging round of competitions at the 2012 American Culinary Federation Northeast Regional Conference, slated April 28-30, in Niagara Falls, N.Y. The competition will pit “Dog Face” soldiers against student teams from many of America’s premier culinary learning institutions.
While the Lansing, Mich., native said he is confident in his team’s ability to be a top contender at the upcoming conference, for him, winning medals isn’t what cooking is all about—awards are just a bonus.
Vegh said cooking wasn’t a big part of his family’s life and that he wasn’t drawn to the trade until he was in high school when he worked at pizza places and other restaurants. He said he worked in the field for more than 10 years before he joined the Army, and plans to remain in the field with the Army and beyond. Vegh said his enjoyment in cooking comes from the process and the important role food plays in society.
“Everywhere you go food kind of reflects people’s values … [and] cultures,” Vegh said. “It’s a lot of work for a small amount of enjoyment, but it’s comparable to any form of art.”
Vegh said he enjoys being part of the creative process in the kitchen, even when dishes don’t end up quite as he set out to make them.
“I love it when everything comes together, but it’s so rare … any time you’re working with food - there’s just always something that can go wrong [or] … multiple something’s that can go wrong,” Vegh said. “That’s where there’s a separation between people who are trained to cook and people who love to cook, … [those] who have that skill that they’ve worked on, and [have the] creativity … [to] solve that problem.”
In his role as alternate for the student team, Vegh said he has an opportunity to learn all four of his teammate’s dishes, and he is able to orchestrate the preparation of the dishes as he keeps time and assists each of his teammates with everything but putting his hands on the ingredients. The food service specialist said the environment he and the student team have been provided in which to learn and grow has been the key to his recent personal growth in the kitchen.
This echelon kind of lets you branch out [and] let your hair down a little,” Vegh said. “I don’t feel like this would be as … easy as it is if I didn’t have the support of the command, most directly … the support of [3rd Bn., 7th Inf. Regt.].”
Like all the food service specialists on the team, Vegh said he is participating in an apprenticeship program, which, when completed, will award each of the soldiers with a chef’s certification.
For the time being, however, Vegh said he is focusing on learning the gourmet dishes his team will prepare for the competition. And, he said, none of what he has learned about advanced food preparation will change the fact that he loves the basics of working with dough’s and sauces.”
“That’s probably just the pizza maker in me,” Vegh said.