Culinary Arts Grad Wins Second Place in SUNY Cobleskill MRE Chopped Challenge
Turning the military’s ready-to-eat meal, known as the MRE, into a creative dish might seem like an impossible task for most, but not for Matthew Wellington, a BOCES culinary grad who is currently attending the SUNY Cobleskill Culinary Arts Program.
Matthew, a New Rochelle High School graduate, took second place in the college’s annual MRE Chopped Challenge.
The Nov. 16 contest, which was hosted by the New York Army National Guard, consisted of eight teams of two students each. The contestants were given random MREs with only 10 minutes to review the ingredients and then develop a menu. They were also allowed to go to the local Walmart for 15 minutes and buy other ingredients that might enhance the dish, with each of them required to stick to a $10 budget. They had one hour to cook something using as many of the MRE ingredients as possible.
The 18-year-old remembers it being a little harrowing, yet a true learning experience.
“For me as a freshman and a last-minute addition competing against previous winners, as well as freshmen and other upperclassmen, I felt very nervous about the competition and cooking for military personnel,” Matthew recalled.
MREs are the primary food ration for the United States Armed Forces. They generally contain an entrée, a side dish, a cracker or bread, a peanut butter jelly or cheese spread, dessert, candy, a beverage, hot sauce or seasoning, a flameless ration heater and accessories such as spoons, matches, creamer, sugar, salt and more.
Using the ingredients available to them, Matthew and his partner, Daymen, quickly turned their allotment of chicken, bread, M&Ms, pop tarts, barbeque sauce and applesauce into something visually appealing.
The result was Mexican style grilled chicken in a bread bowl with caramelized onion and red wine, and the addition of a little rice on the side.
The judges, all troops in the National Guard, as well as being culinary specialists, awarded the top prizes based on taste, creativity, and presentation.
While attending the BOCES Culinary Arts Program, Matthew remembers learning a lot from chefs Gerry Murphy, now retired, Peter Tomaskovic and John Damiani.
“All three of them helped get me into the field,” said Matthew, referring to the valuable work experience he got at the VIP and Wykagyl country clubs in New Rochelle. “That helped get me into five schools, including SUNY Cobleskill,” he added.
Matthew, who is of Jamaican heritage, said he remembers his father cooking a lot for family and friends, weddings, funerals and other church functions, as well as for the local placement home for boys. His mother worked in a restaurant.
“I got attached to the idea of cooking and found my passion for it,” he said. Matthew intends to complete the college’s two-year Associate in Occupational Studies degree and then plans to work closer to home.