VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (NNS) -- The Chief Petty Officer's Scholarship Fund (CPOSF) hosted the "Best of the Mess" competition, an annual fundraising event, Jan. 23, at Founders Inn in Virginia Beach.
The CPOSF provides educational scholarships to qualified family members of Navy chief petty officers. The Best of the Mess is the CPOSF's flagship event in which six teams of three culinary specialists from Hampton Roads get the opportunity to compete and prepare a three-course tasting menu for guests and judges to sample. Judges awarded the first, second and third place teams for their dishes and also for the team who had the best decorated station, while guests had the opportunity to vote for the team they thought should win the People's Choice Award.
The six teams that participated were from the amphibious dock landing ship USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) who was awarded first place for the second year running and also best decorated station, the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) who was awarded second place, the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) who earned third place, Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana who won the People's Choice Award, the guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51), and the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).
NAS Oceana's team consisted of Culinary Specialist 1st Class Niles Harper, Culinary Specialist 2nd Class James Onuska and Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Derrick Bates.
Harper said this was his second time competing in Best of the Mess and though his team did not place the first time, winning the People's Choice Award this year meant everything to him.
"I want these guys to strive for better, so the fact that we got the People's Choice Award - it means more than the regular award because this award is the one that everyone that was here chose ... It's nice and I just want to see my guys, not so much me, but my guys, get to take something home."
Though there were only three CSs from each command presenting their dishes at the event, Onuska said it took the effort of all hands at the galley.
"By all means it wasn't a three-man job," Onuska said. "This was complete help from everyone at NAS Oceana galley, from seaman to chiefs with helping us in the stores, loading shopping carts, to helping roll the pimento cheese balls into the fritters, and helping fabricate the meat and mashing potatoes and loading the vans up, setting up the great decorations ... it was all hands team work by our command - it was great."
This year, each team was asked to follow the theme "Savory to Taste." They were given five ingredients they were required to use in their three course tasting menu: Granny Smith apples, pimento cheese, sage, pork belly and sweet potatoes.
Oceana's culinary team made pimento cheese fritters with green tomato jam for their appetizer, stuffed chicken breast, tri-colored mashed potatoes and green bean almandine for their entree and Granny Smith apple bread pudding with a caramelized pecan crunch for their dessert.
Onuska said that Oceana received a lot of positive feedback and that he was told that the best item that was served at the event was their appetizer, the pimento cheese fritter with green tomato jam.
Harper said that though he was the first class petty officer on Oceana's team, Onuska was the one who took the lead. "I felt he did an outstanding job; he picked the menu, he picked up the cooking methods and everything else. He really did great and I'm proud of him."
Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Iroh Cox, from Oak Hill, who was competing for the first time, was very nervous at first but once he got to the event, he said it was pretty easy for him.
Cox was in charge of making Oak Hill's dessert, sage and pineapple ice cream. He said people were impressed that they were the only team that made an ice cream and that helped them stand out among the crowd. He stood in front of his team's station and was doing his best to pull people in to try the dishes he and his shipmates prepared. He accredited his salesmanship to his prior experience working in retail.
"This experience is wonderful," Cox said. "It's a little bit stressful prepping all this food because we were all back on the ship trying to get the meal out at the same time, but when we got here it was just like 'Wow - this is nice - this is wonderful.'"
Though the main attraction at the Best of the Mess was the culinary showdown, the goal of the event was to raise money for the CPOSF. Other than the competition, the event included a silent auction, an opportunity for guests to place bids to donate to CPOSF, and video presentations where guests heard from scholarship recipients about how the assistance has helped them follow their dreams.
Duane Bushey, chairman for the CPOSF and the 7th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) who helped start the CPOSF, said the event went great. "There's just so many people that volunteered their time, put their heart and soul into this," Bushey said.
"Every penny that was made tonight goes to the CPO Scholarship Fund," Bushey said. He added that the Best of the Mess usually brings in $10 - 12,000. "Every year we give out two $5,000 scholarships and depending on how much money comes in, is how many $2,000 [scholarships] we give out ... last year we did 42."
Bushey said the CPOSF began while raising money for the activities leading up to the commissioning of the mine countermeasures ship USS Chief (MCM 14) in 1994. The chiefs were asked to donate $1 and after three weeks, they had more money than they needed. The money that was left over was used to start the scholarship fund.
"It took a while for it to catch on, but they keep plugging at it and we're up to almost a million dollars ... this year we'll make the million mark."
For more information about the CPOSF events or to make a donation, visit www.cposf.org.
For more news from Naval Air Station Oceana, visit www.navy.mil/local/oceana/.