A Stir The Pots Post

“A ten hut!”

by | May 25, 2009 | Holidays

Before enrolling into culinary school,  I enrolled in the U.S. Army. There, I learned how to shoot an M-16, throw grenades, and explode landmines. I also learned to both sling hash and biscuits. Biscuits, you see were great for knocking tiles off the roof of the NCO club, terrific target practice to attain rank as "biscuit sharpshooter!"

It's been about 20-plus years since I left the military and flung myself head first into the food business. A lot of what I learned is still ingrained; the long hours on my feet, the cleaning, the large numbers of chicken we butchered every day, the recipes, the constant alerts, and between it all, lots of beer drinking instead of P.T.  All to say that cooking for the U.S. Army was not much different from an average restaurant. The primary difference, perhaps, was just the silly name tags, stupid uniforms, and the super shined shoes.

Since it's Memorial day, I always get a nostalgic feeling about old times, and of late see lots more soldiers and sailors coming home or in transit. Seeing them makes me feel a lot of apprehension and sadness at what they are dealing with duty wise in two wars. Back in the 1980s, our task seemed a lot easier – between constant alerts for distant Russians, we were fighting the next beer bottle. Lots of hurry up and wait for the most part!

Anyway, some people say social networking is wasted time, and I almost decided to get off the stuff, it is so addictive…but I had some of my old time army buddies get in touch with me through Facebook. So far, I've been in touch with three of them. And just the other day, my old partner Ross Miller (our baker in the Mess at Kelly Barracks in Stuttgart) sent me a correspondence! It took me back, not that I forget a lot of stuff that happened even with all the beer we consumed. But army is a family. Honestly, I am the most un-military guy, a die hard liberal. Yet all my family have served in the armed forces.

My duty wasn't tough at all. I worked for the General staff in a headquarters company. During field exercises, instead of bivouacking in a tent with lots of folks,I was schlepping field "china," shopping with a stipend for better food at local butcher shops.  Billeted in the same hotel as the general and staff. Not exactly very tough. All the while, I was reading Larousse Gastronomique, which I had purchased at the PX. I was trying to educate myself for my future endeavors once I left Uncle Sams chow hall! In my imagination, there wouldn't be any spam. No I would make pate's, serve filet mignon rather than the behemoth steamship rounds of beef.  Rainbow pies would be bettered with a millefeuille of berries. As I saw it, army grunt Shapiro was going places when I got my walking papers. It was a promise to myself.

To some extent, I did make it. And looking back now, those were good lessons to learn, whether it was percentages on the recipe cards, sanitation, or overall organization. But most of all, I learned to live with lots of different people from totally different backgrounds, culturally, and intellectually. And today, the memories bring a smile. Plus, I can honestly say that I had a good time and learned a hell of a lot from those crazy experiences. Anyway, given what they go through, if you see a uniformed man or woman from the military,  say thanks! Most of them are good people doing a hard job.


  1. MC

    A great post to read on Memorial Day! Thank you, Jeremy.

  2. Susan

    Thanks for reminding us that Memorial Day is not just about the barbecue.

  3. mick

    Aren’t beards wonderful things.

  4. Mr. "Crumb" Aplin

    Hi Jeremy, You really should write your very own version of Kitchen Confidential but from the army grunt’s perspective. Your writing is so enjoyable, I love it! And yes… you did make it. I hope you keep stirthepots going forever. And that we finally get the chance to quaff ales and bake bread together someday.
    Your pal, David Aplin

  5. Jeremy

    Your on David, Yes I did make it miraculously!
    Trying to write stuff, just the weather is nice at the moment, and I have a few baking projects I am working on, some loaves!
    Ale sounds great, I love Canadian beer, hope there are still some non commercial local brands around! (That is another passion I should write about? Beer!)
    Will try to keep it going, and thanks all for all the nice comments, stand at ease, and if you got em smoke em!
    Fall out!


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