Military meals received a culinary upgrade at the Armed Forces Forum for Culinary Excellence at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Santa Helena, California, Oct. 6-10.

The annual National Restaurant Association Military Foundation (NRAMF) event recognized outstanding military servicemen and women from foodservice operations at Air Force, National Guard, NavyMarine Corps, and Military Sealift Command installations around the globe.  The event offered training, education, mentoring, and networking.

This year’s program emphasized 110 percent utilization of ingredients and leftovers and healthy preparation aligned with the U.S. Military’s Healthy Base Initiative.

Participants in the weeklong educational program honed their culinary and foodservice management skills by participating in interactive seminars, hands-on cooking activities, and mentoring and career-coaching sessions.

Highlights included interactive sessions on flavor dynamics and global cuisine, repairing and reviving recipes, and techniques for cooking seasonal dishes. The agenda also included challenges on Unitized Group Ration (UGR) meals and healthy recipes.

Following graduation from the event, students toured the Napa Wine Train’s exclusive kitchen and some participants cooked alongside Chef Kelly McDonald during the dinner service.

Chef McDonald has a history of supporting military members and their families.  His father, Dick McDonald, is a WWII veteran and was part of the 82nd Airborne Division that dropped into Normandy on D-Day. McDonald was on-hand on the Napa Wine Train to share his experiences.

“Events like the Armed Forces Forum allow us to connect with military personnel to further develop the skills and passion that will help them transition into rewarding restaurant careers,” says Rob Gifford, executive vice president of strategic operations and philanthropy for the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

According to the NRA, more than 250,000 military veterans are employed in the restaurant industry. In the next five years, the NRA projects the number of additional employment opportunities to increase by 25,000.

As a donation to the NRAMF, Anheuser-Busch was the 2014 Supplier in Residence for the Salute to Culinary Excellence and sponsored a welcome reception at the Budweiser brewery in Fairfield, California.  Participants experienced a beer and food-pairing seminar led by fifth-generation brewmaster and past president of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas, George Reisch, who leads the company’s brewmaster outreach.

“Beer is the perfect complement to food, and an excellent ingredient too,” Reisch says. “We are pleased to provide additional culinary training to enhance and build on [military service members] current skills, while also positioning them for rewarding careers in the restaurant industry once they are no longer on active duty.”

Several other foodservice and hospitality companies supported the NRAMF including Ecolab, Hobart, BJ’s Brewhouse, Sodexo, Ventura Foods, Rose Packaging, Aramark, and Sysco.

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