The Navy recently announced the winners of the Captain Edward F. Ney Memorial Awards for excellence in food service, honoring culinary crews who set the standard for serving up top-notch eats across the fleet.

In a memo from Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, the service highlighted winners in categories determined by installation location and vessel type. Among the winners, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Thomas Hudner took home the top price in the “Small-Medium Afloat” category.

For Chief Culinary Specialist Kenya Ruiz, who has been in the sea service for 20 years, the award represents a career defined by dedication and planning.

“I got very emotional,” Ruiz told Military Times. “I was very proud of my [crew], and I have to say this is such an accomplishment in the [culinary specialist] world. It was a good feeling.”

“The ship’s motto is ‘Above All Others,’ so we kind of took that to heart,” CS1 Jorge Miranda, a 14-year veteran, added. “I guess that kind of set us aside.”

Hudner’s culinary crew tapped into that level of selfless commitment while passing the rigorous test for a “Supply Management Certification,” a credential that yields an automatic nomination for the award. Next, the crew’s performance was inspected in December to determine award qualification.

To sustain the ship’s crew of about 220 sailors, Thomas Hudner’s culinary specialists start preparing breakfast at 4:30 in the morning and continue through lunch and dinner.

Preparation includes a 21-day menu cycle for the ship. Despite a strict calendar to ensure the ship remains adequately stocked, the expansive meal prep also requires keeping up to speed on the crew’s likes and dislikes — and what meals are a hot commodity.

Perhaps taco Tuesday is on the menu, for example. For sailors, chicken and beef are far more popular than the fish variety. With this approach, consideration of each and every meal must go into preparing store rooms to carry the 21-day menu cycle.

Additionally, as ships deploy, culinary specialists have to take into account food availability based on geographical location.

“We’re ordering based off of our area of operation,” Ruiz said. “There are some things we’re able to get very easily [stateside], whereas [when] we’re going overseas, it’s not so easy. Being flexible with the items that we order is very important. ... There’s a constant rotation of change or additions to our menu that help us stay flexible, stay on mission and be combat ready.”

When asked how food preparation and service on a ship compares to land, Miranda noted that, even after stints serving on land installations, working on as a culinary specialist on a ship is incomparable.

“Being in the environment that we’re in on a boat in the middle of the water, taking heavy rolls, the trust that you have to have amongst yourselves and amongst the team to put out the meal on time ... it’s a different ball game,” Miranda said. “I wouldn’t compare it to anything really out there.”

In addition to Hudner, six other awards were issued to ships or installations across the fleet. The Navy determines each award by cleanliness, food quality, organization, inventory, galley presentation, and culinary specialist job efficiency, according to a statement from the carrier Ronald Reagan. The service’s culinary winners include:

  • Submarine Category: Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine Maine
  • Aircraft Carrier Category: Nimitz-class carrier Ronald Reagan
  • Large Afloat Category: Wasp-class amphibious assault ship Bataan
  • West Coast General Mess Category: Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Silver Dolphin Bistro
  • East Coast General Mess Category: Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island, Captain Edward F. Ney Hall
  • Outside the Continental United States General Mess Category: Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, Ristorante Belle Etna

Zamone “Z” Perez is a reporter at Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.

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