Ditching his white chef’s uniform in favor of fashionable battle fatigues and chic, but clunky combat boots, restaurateur, chef and television personality Emeril Lagasse joined the military last week, when he showed up at Fort Lee, about 30 miles south of Richmond, Virginia. The loquacious host of Emeril Green, blended right in with the men and women at the Army Center of Excellence Subsistence, where he was drafted to tape two upcoming episodes of his show for Discovery Communications’ Planet Green eco-lifestyle network.
The Army Center of Excellence Subsistence, or cooking school, as most people know it, is the military’s premier training facility for cooks and chefs in all branches of the armed services. Lagasse’s visit to the Center was designed to demonstrate to soldier-chefs how they could experience the joy of cooking while serving their country. The focus of the shows was to prove that even the military could prepare delicious, large-scale meals that are healthy, organic and eco-friendly, too.
As Lagasse stirred up a culinary feast, he kept up a constant conversation with his kitchen colleagues, making jokes and punctuating the banter with an occasional “BAM!”, his signature outburst.
To simulate meal preparation conditions while deployed, Lagasse and his military helpers prepped and cooked in a makeshift kitchen set up like those used in the field. The big containerized kitchens have the capacity to prepare meals for up to 800 people. “It’s like any state-of-the-art commercial kitchen,” Lagasse said.
Although there was a lot of frivolity and high spirited back-and-forth banter throughout the day, Lagasse realized that the men and women who feed the troops have an awesome responsibility. “Even in the field, they are not just relying on Meals Ready to Eat, those MREs,” said Lagasse, during a break in the taping. “They really have people that they have trained here [at Fort Lee] and other places who can really cook. I think they’ve realized that food is definitely a morale booster.”
Lagasse and his helpers prepared a gourmet feast that included jambalaya, chicken pot pie, corn and potato chowder, green beans, ham and mashed potato croquettes, fruit salad and bread pudding. Some of the items were made with the cafeteria-size cans and institutional packages of food you might find at a military base in the middle of nowhere.
Sgt. Sean Macey, a cooking instructor at Fort Lee, served as Lagasse’s right-hand assistant during the taping. Macey’s wife Emily and son Erick watched from the sidelines. “This is really his thing,”Macey said of her husband. “He’s always watched a lot of the Food Network. He’s hoping when he’s done with the military he can open a restaurant.”
Lagasse was impressed with the progress the military is making toward protecting the environment, as he pointed out the water filtration system in place that separates the grease and food particles. He also commented on the efforts that many military bases were making in the areas of composting and recycling.
The segments taped at Fort Lee will air Memorial Day weekend as a tribute to the men and women of the armed forces.