Combat Chefs

Tuesday 16th December at 8:00pm on five

This four-part series profiles the men and women responsible for feeding the 120,000 British troops stationed overseas. From battlefield to banquet hall, the combat chefs are charged with the task of making hearty meals every day, whatever the weather and whatever the situation. In the final instalment, Major Lomas leads his best chefs into culinary battle at a high-profile cooking competition.

Keeping the British Army on its feet at home and abroad are the highly trained chefs of the Royal Logistic Corps. This versatile team serves everything from basic scoff in combat situations to haute cuisine at prestigious ceremonial events. Responsible for every Army meal served up in London is renowned perfectionist Maj Harry Lomas.

This week, Maj Lomas picks the cream of the crop from his London team and puts them through a rigorous training regime in preparation for the Combined Services Culinary Challenge (CSCC) at Sandown Park in Surrey. This annual event is the climax of the Army chefs’ calendar – a chance for them to show off their gourmet skills and showcase the latest techniques. With competition coming from handpicked teams across the British armed forces, the standards will be very high.

One part of the contest sees the teams given two and a half hours to prepare two main courses and two puddings for 20 people using dried rations and just £5-worth of fresh ingredients. This challenge is designed to represent conditions on the frontline, where military cooks often use whatever local ingredients they can find in order to supplement standard ration-pack fare.

The dishes are judged by a panel of top Army chefs who will be looking out for far more than just taste and presentation. The teams at the CSCC are also judged on how efficiently they have used their rations, how well the chefs have worked as a unit and the levels of hygeine they have maintained – particularly important in combat situations.

Nothing less than the top prize in every element of the contest will do for Maj Lomas and his protégés. Will his young master chefs manage to hold their nerve under close scrutiny from the best in the business?

Wednesday 10th December at 8:00pm

This four-part series profiles the men and women responsible for feeding the 120,000 British troops stationed overseas. From battlefield to banquet hall, the combat chefs are charged with the task of making hearty meals every day, whatever the weather and whatever the situation. This week, Maj Harry
Lomas is furious when he finds that his chefs have been cutting corners in the kitchen.

Keeping the British Army on its feet at home and abroad are the highly trained chefs of the Royal Logistic Corps. This versatile team serves everything from basic scoff in combat situations to haute cuisine at prestigious ceremonial events. Responsible for every army meal served up in London is renowned perfectionist Maj Harry Lomas.

With a meagre budget of £1.75 to feed each soldier, chefs in the London District certainly have their work cut out for them. In order for the army’s busiest catering unit to keep within budget, staff must adhere to the standard issue army cookbook. Its recipes are specially formulated to produce top-notch grub using fresh ingredients. Most importantly, there should be no waste.

Maj Lomas sets very high standards for the meals prepared under his watch. Every morsel must be up to scratch, whether it is being served to dignitaries at a state function or to soldiers in the barracks. However, it has come to Maj Lomas’s attention that his chefs have been lacing the troops’ lunches and dinners with processed ingredients. One culprit is LCpl Gladstone Nelson, who has not been using the prescribed tomato soup recipe. This improvisation is totally unacceptable, so the major decides it is time to send in the cavalry. With the help of his management team, he begins carrying out impromptu kitchen inspections.

During an inspection of packed lunches, Maj Lomas discovers to his dismay that some of the sandwiches have been filled with Spam and processed cheese. This is certainly not adequate sustenance for strapping servicemen, so Harry announces that he is going to “get round the regiments and kick some arse”.

At London’s Wellington Barracks, Maj Lomas dons his whites and prepares to show his chefs how it should be done. It is the first time in 20 years that the major has got his hands dirty in the kitchen, but he has not lost his touch. Today, the unit is charged with feeding over a thousand hungry punters from the Territorial Army. As many fresh ingredients as possible are included in the fare. Harry also uses the opportunity to give LCpl Nelson a master class in how to cook tomato soup army-style.

Elsewhere, Harry deploys food officer Mark Nottingham to the Household Cavalry in Windsor. As Nottingham gives the kitchen the once-over, head chef LSgt Stebbing is not impressed. “It’s my kitchen –get out,” he says. Despite the chef’s objections, Mark sets about trying to prove that fresh is best when it comes toarmy catering. But LSgt Stebbing is not convinced, claiming that without extra hands in the kitchen, cooking everything from scratch is impossible. However, Harry remains undeterred at this setback and turns his attention to whipping his chefs’ attitudes into shape.

This four-part series profiles the men and women responsible for feeding the 120,000 British troops stationed overseas. From battlefield to banquet hall, the combat chefs are charged with the task of making hearty meals every day, whatever the weather and whatever the situation. This week, a suicide
attack in Afghanistan puts master chef SSgt Simon Hewitt on high alert; Maj Lomas organises a high-profile canapé evening; and there is some unexpected help in the kitchen at one of the army’s smartest dinner nights.

Keeping the British Army on its feet at home and abroad are the highly trained chefs of the Royal Logistic Corps. This versatile team serves everything from basic scoff in combat situations to haute cuisine at prestigious ceremonial events. Responsible for every army meal served up in London is renowned perfectionist Maj Harry Lomas. Top of the agenda for the Major today is the catering for a cocktail party following a Beating the Retreat parade. “I want high-class canapés,” he says. “It’s not cheese on a stick.” Charged with meeting Maj Lomas’s high standards at this event is newly promoted master chef Danny Taylor – and he is in for a tough time.

In order to cater for what the boss calls “VVVIPs”, Danny and his team will need to pull out all the stops. “What we’re trying to create is a meal within a canapé,” says Danny as he and his team set to work. But new recruit Pte Kat Davis knows better than to expect any slack from Maj Lomas, having already experienced one of his inspections. “Major Lomas is really harsh,” she says. “He never misses a thing.”
In an attempt to impress the boss, the team has prepared a range of offerings, including petite prawn cocktails, small smoked salmon, bite-sized burger and chips and tiny tuna Niçoise. But Maj Lomas is typically unimpressed. “What’s this shit?” he asks, incredulously. However, Maj Lomas claims that his harsh comments are all part of a grand plan to nurture the careers of the young chefs in his care. “I want to see the guys blossom when they’re in London,” he explains. “They are going to be out on the exercises on their own. If we can train them right, they will deliver right.” To help his protégés up their game, the Major takes them to Borough Market on London’s South Bank for a crash course in quality food.

In Afghanistan, conditions for the combat chefs are very different. Here, 300 cooks feed some
8,000 soldiers, often under the threat of mortar fire and in scorching temperatures. Life is particularly tough in the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), where simply keeping the kitchens stocked is a logistical nightmare. However, the combat chefs are determined that there be no compromise on quality.

In charge of keeping the troops well fed at FOB Price in the middle of the notorious Helmand province is master chef SSgt Simon Hewitt. But before he and his team can use the 4,000 eggs, 100 loaves of bread and 300kg of meat that the soldiers get through every week, he must ensure that the incoming ration trucks do not contain any deadly cargo. The camp is on especially high alert because of a nearby suicide bombing that recently claimed the lives of three British soldiers. “The worst thing that could happen
would be for a vehicle-born explosive device to come into this camp,” says SSgt Hewitt.

Back on home soil, Maj Lomas turns his attention to a summer banquet for the army’s top brass. For this event, the Major has managed to pull off something of a coup in signing up a celebrity chef to help with the catering. Before the day of the feast arrives, the young chefs of the London District have the opportunity to learn some invaluable lessons from a professional team at one of London’s top restaurants. “Coming here today is a one-in-a-million opportunity,” says 21-year-old Pte Kirk Davis. “I’ve got to absorb as much as I can.”

Wednesday 26th November
20:00 on five

Beginning this week on Five is a new four-part series that profiles the men and women responsible for feeding the 120,000 British troops stationed overseas. From battlefield to banquet hall, the combat chefs are charged with the task of making hearty meals every day, whatever the weather and whatever the situation. In the opening instalment, soldiers at the front line in Afghanistan get a rare culinary treat, and the heat is on for the army chefs at a cookery competition in Germany.

For the 2,500 chefs of the Royal Logistics Corps, the Defence Food Services School in Aldershot is where it all begins. After undergoing the rigorous training necessary to become soldiers, these young men and women are then turned into chefs. But as well as learning regular kitchen skills, the new recruits are taught how to cook using nothing more than dustbins, mud and open fires. The skill, known as ‘improvised cookery’, is unique to the British Army. Supervising the latest outdoor training exercise is Cpt Scott Dunlop. “There’s quite a lot to take in,” he says.

For the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards stationed at forward operating base (FOB) Keenan in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, good food is hard to come by. Charged with rebuilding the war-torn community and defending the locals from Taliban rebels, these troops have lived and worked in this remote area for five months. The vast majority of their food comes courtesy of boil-in-the-bag ration packs dropped by army helicopters.

Luckily, culinary help is at hand. Based at the nearby FOB Price, Staff Sgt Hewitt is the battalion’s master
chef. At Price, SSgt Hewitt’s team of 11 chefs feeds 300 troops a day with fresh fruit, roast dinners and barbecues. “This is the best food in Afghanistan,” says SSgt Hewitt. Once a month, the cooks travel to FOB Keenan to raise morale with some good, home-cooked food. But getting to Keenan is no picnic.

Swapping chef’s whites for body armour, Hewitt and two members of his team must cross the notorious
Green Zone in a heavily armed convoy. After a tense night-time journey, the cooks arrive at FOB Keenan and set about building the kitchen from which they will feed 160 hungry soldiers. On the menu today is a range of healthy, balanced meals, including chicken, potatoes and fresh vegetables. After swiftly knocking up an oven and a large hot plate using old mortar boxes and mud, 18-year-old cook Pte Tracy Montgomery is not convinced the setup will work. “You do feel like you’re under a bit of pressure!” she says. However, just a few hours later, SSgt Hewitt and his two protégés have put together hundreds of hearty dishes that will keep the division going for days. Upon returning from patrol, the soldiers are delighted with the prospect of hot food. “It does make a big difference,” says LCpl Amy Roberts. “It makes everyone happy.” For those stationed at the base perimeter, there is even a takeaway service. “Having a master chef down here once a month is fantastic,” says Mjr Thomas Charles. “It provides a serious element to the moral fibre of the company.”

In the relative calm of Gütersloh in Germany, combat chefs from the British Army have assembled for an annual competition designed to take the art of improvised cookery to ever-higher levels. Twenty teams of cooks compete in a gruelling culinary contest, interspersed with field exercises. Judging the chefs’ efforts is Mjr Harry Lomas of the London District –the army’s most prestigious catering division. “It’s a bit like ‘Scrapheap Challenge’ versus ‘MasterChef’,” he explains.

Each team must produce a three-course meal from a box of gourmet ingredients, including chorizo sausage, fresh salmon and guinea fowl. But before the cooking can begin, the teams must build their kitchens using items as diverse as old filing cabinets and metal buckets. After encountering the odd disaster, including a tray full of charred birds that he describes as “guinea-fowl jerky”, Mjr Lomas thinks he has found a winner. Using an ingenious second oven to create charcoal, Sgt Jay Kingsbury and his team have come up with a gastro-pub feast, featuring prawn and chorizo parcels, mushroom risotto and lamb loin stuffed with black pudding.

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