HomeNewsFeaturesDisplay

Dining facility proves sheer excellence while all are sleeping

Airman Jesus Ramirez, 22nd Services Squadron chef, gathers ingredients from the spice rack to prepare cornmeal dressing for one of the lunch meals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Maurice Hessel)

Airman Jesus Ramirez, 22nd Services Squadron chef, gathers ingredients from the spice rack to prepare cornmeal dressing for one of the lunch meals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Maurice Hessel)

Airman Erica Reyes (foreground), 22nd Services Squadron, first cook, boxes up flight meals while Airman Basic Benjamin Price (right), 22nd Services Squadron, chef, prepares sandwiches for the meals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Maurice Hessel)

Airman Erica Reyes (foreground), 22nd Services Squadron, first cook, boxes up flight meals while Airman Basic Benjamin Price (right), 22nd Services Squadron, chef, prepares sandwiches for the meals. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Maurice Hessel)

After a long morning of preparations and cooking, lunch is served. Hilda Castro, 22nd Services Squadron server, working the day shift, fills an Airman?s bowl with some scrumptious foods. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Maurice Hessel)

After a long morning of preparations and cooking, lunch is served. Hilda Castro, 22nd Services Squadron server, working the day shift, fills an Airman?s bowl with some scrumptious foods. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Maurice Hessel)

Kahmtan Greenlee, 22nd Services Squadron server, cleans a tray to arrange freshly sliced vegetables to serve at the salad bar. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Maurice Hessel)

Kahmtan Greenlee, 22nd Services Squadron server, cleans a tray to arrange freshly sliced vegetables to serve at the salad bar. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Maurice Hessel)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- While most are sleeping, Chisholm Trail dining facility workers are busy preparing food to satisfy their customers tummy rumbles through the day. Midnight meals are first followed by breakfast, lunch, flight meal preparations and finally dinner. The unseen process to ensure complete customer satisfaction begins at midnight each night. The first order of business is to pull the daily menu.

How do they know what to cook each day? Chefs follow the Air Force production log. The log has a 14-day menu which rotates entrées, sides and even deserts for each meal, every day, for two weeks.

"In addition to rotating our foods for each mealtime, we switch the menus for lunch and dinner every two weeks as well," said Staff Sgt. Nichol Williams, 22nd Services Squadron NCO in charge of food operation. "We do this so our customers aren't eating the same meal all the time.

"Since dozens of companies provide food, the dining facility orders ingredients through a prime vendor. The prime vendor gathers the foods requested from the vendors to ship to the dining facility. Upon arrival, food is marked with a tag showing when the item is needed. The food is arranged with the most present date at the front so the night crew can pull the proper food to begin preparations.

Once all items are ready, the chefs begin the steamy process of progressive cooking. This means that, unlike preparation for fast food places which make the full day's food in the morning, meals are prepared fresh throughout the day and stored hot until served. No one likes stale bread and cold soup.

A "first cook" for each shift plans the whole menu and ensures each meal is finished on time.

Since inventory is taken weekly to order food, the dining facility has a unique system which automatically deducts items from inventory with the push of a button. When ringing up customers' meals, the cashier presses the corresponding button on the register, taking count of all ingredients used in each dish and how much of the ingredient was used.

The Corporate Food System, a computer recipe system, also makes the day run a little smoother. When preparing food, chefs type the recipe number into the computer, providing the recipe with a list of ingredients in order of preparation. They can also print off a nutrition list and a form, the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system, which shows, step-by-step, how to order, store, cook, serve and everything in between, for each recipe.

"This machine is like our bible. It tells us exactly what to do and when to do it," said Airman Joseph Fino, 22nd Services Squadron chef.

Airman Fino has aspired to open his own steak house since the age of eight when he saw a steak house in New Jersey with the modern and country look combined together. While working at a fast food restaurant, he decided he needed a change and joining the military would be the best path for him to take to reach his goal.

Sergeant Williams said that baking was seen as the most difficult aspect of cooking for many chefs.

"It's really easy to put all the ingredients together but the tough part is cooking," said Airman Fino. "We begin cooking, then we have to walk away to start a new meal. We work on a bunch of meals at once, while having pressure from customers and being called to help with other things."

Despite the pressure of cooking, these Airmen helped the dining facility win some major awards. Members of the Chisholm Trail dining facility won Airman of the Quarter for the Services Squadron several times. Participation in the Best Wing challenge netted Sergeant Williams and three Airmen two first place medals.

Airman 1st Class Medel Ardiente was awarded the Travelers Trophy for being in the top 50 best Airmen of AMC. He was awarded the opportunity to travel to the Culinary Institute Association for a two-week course.

The facility also has a chef of the quarter award, where they honored an Airman for his or her excellence.

Training is one reason for their many awards. Since the dining facility serves anywhere between 350 and 500 Department of Defense members, from all military branches, daily, they follow the ServSafe guide. This teaches them to cook, order serving sizes and know what to do during a large rush of customers.

The chefs have to be on their toes with safety at all times. While preparing meals, chefs must write down the temperature changes of the food. To avoid burning, steam and other safety issues, they also have to be sure anyone around is aware when opening the oven.

Each step they take leads to the next: ordering to preparing to cooking to serving food and back around to ordering. This is the full cycle the dining facility workers go through many times daily.

"It's amazing how they go through a complete circle from how to order to how they use ingredients," said Sergeant Williams.

From the first pinch of salt to the final product, the extraordinary Chisholm Trail chefs guarantee fresh, filling meals to their customers each and every