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National Restaurant Association - 'I'm really blessed to be here'

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'I'm really blessed to be here'


As the U.S. Marine Corps celebrates its 237th birthday, its service men and women throughout the world celebrate with with traditional cake-cutting ceremonies.

For five select marines involved in foodservice operations, that ceremony took place a day early at the Culinary Institute of America's campus in Greystone, Calif. The ceremony was part of a National Restaurant Association Military Foundation program for 25 outstanding servicemen and women who work in foodservice operations on USMC and Air Force bases.

"This is a special day for marines, made more special by your presence," Major Gen. James Kessler said Friday at at the NRAMF Armed Forces Forum for Culinary Excellence. "We have celebrated our birthday on the 10th of November wherever marines are."

The ceremony celebrates the legacy of marines who came before, as well as the future generation, said Kessler, commander, Marine Corps installations and assistant deputy commandant for installations and logistics. It was a fitting addition to the weeklong event, which aimed to enhance the participants' culinary skills and prepare them for foodservice careers.

The event, which concludes Saturday, featured interactive seminars, hands-on cooking activities, mentoring and career-coaching sessions. CIA instructors, members of the NRAMF and sponsors provided guidance and feedback.


"It's really good being here with our brothers and sisters in arms," said Staff Sgt. Lakita Washington. As a marine who works in combat logistics at Camp Pendleton, Calif., she typically doesn't have the opportunity to work with her peers from the Air Force. "I really enjoyed us coming together as a team with students and chefs at the CIA. I am really lucky."

Said Lance Cpl. Ron Castillo: "I'm really blessed to be here."


Castillo, a marine from Camp Kinser in Okinawa, Japan,  said the CIA instructors challenged participants with activities to improve their technical skills and creativity. The seminars and fast-paced cooking activities will help him work more quickly, accurately and efficiently when he returns to base, and critiques helped him learn from his mistakes, he added.

For restaurateurs, suppliers and other industry leaders who provided career advice and support for the program, the experience was equally gratifying.

NRA Chair Rosalyn "Roz" Mallet, who received the first piece of cake in what she called an amazing tradition, said it was an honor to be involved.

"It's an acknowledgment of what you do every day," said Mallet, president and CEO, PhaseNext Hospitality.

The marines and airmen and women represent "what's great about America," said National Restaurant Association board member Ted Burke, owner, Shadowbrook Restaurant, Capitola, Calif. Burke is among the NRA board members who evaluate military foodservice operations through the Hennessy Traveler program.

The participants are enthusiastic and passionate about culinary learning and learning in general, he said.

"There's a diversityof cultures, backgrounds, aspirations and personalities that make the week exciting and enjoyable," he said.

"We're investing in the future," said Gail Swain, manager, non-commercial markets, for Cambro Manufacturing Co., one of the program's many sponsors.



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