Tester staff writer
Team Bubbleskim dominated the grill.
Chief Culinary Specialist Michael Halavin, a submariner, or “bubblehead,” and Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Jeremy Andersen, a surface Sailor, or “skimmer,” not only combined their naval nicknames but also their culinary expertise by teaming up to take first place at a barbecue competition held June 21 and 22 in Washington, D.C.
Representing the Navy in the Military Chef’s Cook-off category of the Safeway Barbecue Battle, the capital’s largest annual food and music festival, the two chefs took no prisoners with their “go big or go home” approach to preparing and plating a meal that far exceeded the judges’ expectations.
“The competition requirements were that we use a boneless, skinless chicken thigh as our meat item, accompanied by either a veggie or starch,” said Halavin, currently serving shore duty at NAS Patuxent River in charge of unaccompanied housing, where Andersen also works with him. “We had two hours to prepare everything and we started thinking that it was way too much time; so we decided to go above and beyond, and provided a full course meal instead.”
For their menu, the Sailors prepared a chicken roulade, stuffed with shitake mushrooms and wrapped in caul fat, the thin membrane of fat that covers a cow’s intestine and provides moisture and flavor as it melts during cooking. They topped that with a roasted red-pepper coulis and added roasted potatoes, green bean almondine, corn relish cut from fresh grilled corn on the cob, dill pickle and cornbread.
As charcoal was their only authorized heat source, how did these creative chefs prepare cornbread?
“It was cooked in a foil-lined cardboard box and was something I did 20-plus years ago in the Boy Scouts, while I was working on my cooking merit badge,” Halavin explained. “At first, CS2 was skeptical, so, prior to the competition, we did some trial practice runs and I turned him into a believer. The cornbread was our secret weapon.”
With everything on the grill simultaneously, the chefs varied the temperature by thickly or thinly layering the coals beneath each item.
“There was also a mystery ingredient we had to incorporate into our menu that we didn’t learn about until we arrived at the competition,” Halavin explained. “They actually gave us two ingredients: lingonberry preserves and lingonberry vinegar. Instantly, we knew what to do with both of them. We put the preserves into the corn relish and the vinegar in the dill pickle.”
To finish it off with a touch of simple class, the team mixed up lavender lemonade to help cleanse the palate. With 10 minutes to spare, they were finished, plated and calmly awaiting the judges.
“Anybody can cook a piece of chicken and corn on the cob in under two hours,” Halavin said. “Pushing it to the limit is the only way to test your skill. We maximized every minute of those two hours and had an awesome time doing it. It was a lot of fun.”
As first place winners, the team was awarded a trophy, a carving set, $250 in cash, an article in the September issue of BBQ America magazine and, of course, well-deserved bragging rights.
Hot off his first place win with Team Bubbleskim, Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Jeremy Andersen scored another first place trophy on Day Two of the Safeway Barbecue Battle, June 22, in Washington, D.C.
“I was doing a culinary demonstration when the coordinator for the military participants came over to ask if I’d be willing to fill in for a Navy team that didn’t show up,” he explained. “My wife, Marme Edwards, joined me [as an assistant] and I won for a second day in a row.”
Using the ingredients ordered by the other team, Andersen went on to prepare sopia — a sort of open face soft shell tortilla — which he grilled and topped with shredded pork, refried beans, pickled red onions and goat cheese. He also made a corn salsa and drizzled it with a creamy sauce made from reduced corn husks, chicken stock and sour cream — all complemented with a virgin bloody mary.
Pro Chef Level I Certified
After spending a week in Texas at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, and passing daily practical and written examinations on a variety of topics and skills, Andersen earned his Pro Chef Level 1 certification, July 25.
“Level I covers the culinary classics — the mother sauces,” he explained. “It’s kind of a forgotten art, but if you learn those and master the basics, then you can go on to experiment with your own stuff.”
With one of the institute’s three levels successfully completed, Andersen is looking forward to earning his Level II certification as soon as he’s able.