Story by Michael Strasser on 08/06/2019FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Aug. 6, 2019) -- Culinary specialists from the 10th Mountain Division (LI) will introduce the Fort Drum community to the U.S. Army Food Service's newest food truck during a grand opening Aug. 8 at Clark Hall.
The new food truck program is designed to bring fresh, healthy food to Soldiers while they are supporting missions that make it difficult for them to travel to a dining facility (DFAC). It also provides them an incentive to use their meal card instead of paying out of pocket elsewhere for breakfast or lunch.
"We go where the Soldiers are, simple as that," said Master Sgt. Dwight Copeland, senior culinary management noncommissioned officer for the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade. "Some Soldiers have to travel a greater distance than others to get to a DFAC, and so this will provide them a mobile platform to get breakfast and lunch."
Copeland said that when Soldiers see the truck with the big Culinary Outpost logo on the side, they'll know that they have the support of a dedicated team of culinary specialists.
"It's a great way to show them that food service operations are willing to go that extra mile, to be where they are, and provide a nutritious meal for the warfighter," he added.
But before they can take food operations on the road, a team from the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence at Fort Lee, Virginia, instructed the Soldiers for nearly two weeks on the Culinary Outpost food truck.
"Everybody's excited about this," said Staff Sgt. Tony Girod, advanced culinary noncommissioned officer with 593rd Quartermaster Company, 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade. "I think some of the Soldiers were a little nervous at first. But once we saw the equipment, saw the menus that we will be producing, and understood the concept of where the Army is going with this, there was a lot of excitement."
Army culinarians learned individual roles and responsibilities, how to work together as a team, safety and sanitation, customer service and point of sale procedures.
Girod said that the food truck is an entirely different environment than what they are used to inside a dining facility, so that was one of the challenges they had to work out.
"With dining facility operations, you're looking at mass production cooking for anywhere between 250 to 1,000 Soldiers per meal," said Girod, who serves as the food truck operations NCOIC. "With the truck, everything will be made to order.' This truck is specifically designed to support a 200 head count per meal, one to three meals per day, based on division requirements."
"We all know how to follow recipe cards, so the cooking is going to be the easiest part of the task," Girod added. "But before we can do that, we have to get all of our ducks in a row, so to speak."
By that, Girod meant that the team had to work on planning and timing techniques ensuring all prep work is done before moving to any location and that they bring all necessary food items and equipment with them.
"But there is nothing that these Soldiers can't handle," he added.
The only piece of equipment that Soldiers weren't familiar with from the DFAC is the air fryer.
"Rather than using the traditional deep fat fryer, which obviously in a mobile setting isn't ideal, we're using an air fryer, which is supposed to cut down on the amount of grease that some of these fried products normally have but keep the crunch and flavor," he said. "Everything else is pretty much standard kitchen equipment refrigerators, steam table, grill and stove top."
Girod noted that one of the civilian contractors sent to educate the Soldiers on the food truck was Mark Warren, a retired sergeant major who previously served as the senior NCO at the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence.
"He's among the best culinarians that the Army has," Girod said. "He does a lot of judging at the culinary competition at Fort Lee and he's the one who designed our menus and recipe cards so you know that the food truck is going to have that great culinary aspect to it. If we follow his teachings, we should be able to do really well going forward. Basically, we have the Army's best retired food service professionals here showing us how it needs to be done over 100 years of culinary experience combined in the five people who came to teach us."
Girod said that Fort Drum is the first installation to receive the second-generation Culinary Outpost food truck, which features upgrades that weren't included in the model that was piloted at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and Fort Carson, Colorado. The food truck is also headed to five other installations, including Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
"One of the improvements made was eliminating those quarter-inch gaps in between equipment where food goes down and becomes hard to clean," he said. "So now we have solid, stainless steel countertops that run straight across."
According to a Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support press release, other improvements were made to the air conditioning and heating systems, and the on-board equipment eliminates heat transfer.
The trucks also are equipped with a digital menu board that lists all of the food options, which also appears on the touch screen while ordering a meal. Each meal has three to five customizable options.
Girod said that the menus will appeal to a lot of people, and they were developed with guidance from dietitians and nutritionists.
"The menus are designed to taste great and look great, and they are healthy for the Soldiers," Girod said. "They are going to come up and order what they want off the touchscreen menu, and it is all prepared right there so they will be getting freshly cooked food, fast."
Breakfast menu options include croissant and bagel sandwiches, country breakfast bowls and wraps with a choice of proteins and sides, such as fruit, yogurt or a pastry selection.
The lunch and dinner menus include options for beef, pork or chicken burgers; paninis, subs and wraps; Asian specialty bowls and hearty salads topped with grilled steak, chicken or tuna fish. Sides include fries, slaw, fruit or side salad. Dessert options include cookie, cake or pie.
The culinary specialists conducted their first practice run Aug. 6 outside Hays Hall, and they experienced their first rush of customers from the 10th Mountain Division headquarters. Sgt. Bria Mason expedited food orders for the 90-minute trial, and she said that the crew was eager to test out their skills on the new equipment.
"I think it's a chance to learn different skills at an even faster pace, because the food is made to order," she said. "You want to make sure every customer is pleased with the service, so it's important to get those orders out fast and that everything is correct. We're definitely learning a different set of skills."
Mason, with 593rd Quartermaster Company, 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade, said it was a privilege to be selected for the food truck crew.
"Especially because we're the first group to operate in this truck on Fort Drum, we were all excited to be here today," she said. "I think everyone did an excellent job today, and we fed more than we expected. We worked as a team, and I'm proud to be a part of it."
Their first official appearance to the public is scheduled from 11:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Clark Hall parking lot. The Army culinarians are prepared to serve 200 meals, so it will be on a first-come, first served basis.
"We'll be ready," Mason said confidently.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Roy Dabreo, 10th Mountain Division (LI) senior food adviser, said that Clark Hall will be one of the key locations for the food truck because of the volume of Soldiers who rotate through the building on a daily basis. He said that the food truck also would be ideal for Soldiers conducting railhead operations, and at the flight line for deployment operations. It can also be used to support division Soldiers during change of command rehearsals and after ceremonies.
Dabreo said that the food truck will give meal cardholders a better option than paying out of pocket for food. Those service members can swipe their common access cards at the food truck, while other Soldiers and civilians can make cash transactions until the system is set up for alternate purchasing methods.
More culinary specialists will be trained as needed to meet future scheduling requirements. For now, Girod said that only the best were selected to launch the new program.
"I'd like to say it's because we're top notch," he said. "For the most part, we looked for Soldiers who have longevity on the installation we didn't want to spend the time training Soldiers who might not be here two weeks from now. We also looked at the potential of the Soldiers we work with on a daily basis and see who is showing aptitude in their work but are also picking up new tasks very quickly."
Girod said that culinary specialists must be detail-oriented and have a positive attitude with a passion for food.
"This is a major investment that the Army is making, so we're not going to muck it up by selecting the wrong people for the task. Fortunately, we have a lot of Soldiers with good customer service skills and all the other qualities that we are looking for," he said.
The locations and meal service times for the Culinary Outpost food truck will be available online at www.home.army.mil/drum, on social media sites and on the Fort Drum app when it is available.