FORT CARSON, Colo. — Soldiers sweating over hot stoves on a Fort Carson training range last week say the Super Bowl has nothing on the Army's top culinary challenge.
A team from the post's 4th Infantry Division was chopping and frying its way through the finals. The prize: Recognition as the best field kitchen in the Army.
"This is our Super Bowl," said Chief Warrant Officer Chontelle Sturdivant, who has already coached her cooking team through a string of wins to reach the final Army-wide challenge. "We're hoping all this hard work pays off."
The team has spent the past year working its way to the Army competition. Recipes have been refined. Techniques polished.
"It's an honor that as a team we were able to make it this far," said Spc. Chelsea Potterville as she served-up award-winning scrambled eggs and sausages.
The contest simulates cooking under combat conditions. In addition to cooks, sanitation experts, construction engineers, camouflage experts and infantry troops to guard the meal took part.
"They're impressive," said Chief Warrant Officer Charles Talley Jr., who came to Colorado Springs from Fort Lee, Virginia, to judge the competition.
Soldiers say the benefits of the cooking challenge have been evident in chow halls across the post, where the fare has improved as the cooking team has defeated unit after unit across the service.
"This is by far the best dining facility I have seen in a field environment," said Staff Sgt. Charles May, an infantryman who got to eat the competition's results.
Good food is something that keeps soldiers focused and happy in the face of enemy fire, explained Sgt. 1st Class Dave Pring, an infantry platoon sergeant in the post's 1st Brigade Combat Team.
Cooks have long been the target of derision in the Army, where a favorite pastime for soldiers is complaining about the food. Exquisite cuisine may not draw praise from hungry troops, but its impact is evident on the battlefield, Pring said.
"It brings morale up," he said.
The morale-boosting breakfast for the competition featured the Fort Carson team's secret weapon - a twist on French toast. Cooks carve up tinned Army-issue spice cakes, dipped the results in an egg mixture and fry it for a sinfully sweet breakfast staple.
For the lunch portion competition, the cooks were offering made-to-order quesadillas.
Hours before their diners arrived for breakfast, the cooks were hard at work on the snowy training range. They're facing a team from Fort Lewis outside Tacoma, Washington, and another unit from Hawaii for the cooking crown, which will be announced later this month.
"We want to make sure we show how much we support our infantry," Sturdivant said.
Winning at the highest level won't bring a ring or a cash prize or even a medal. But it does give the Army cooks a recognition they don't often receive.
"It is a thankless job," Sturdivant explained.