Military Chefs Battle On Pentagon's Cooking Show Every week, you can catch some of the military's best chefs on The Grill Sergeants, the Pentagon Channel's cooking show. Brad Turner, the original "Grill Sergeant," is shooting new episodes focused on cuisine from different countries.
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Military Chefs Battle On Pentagon's Cooking Show

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Military Chefs Battle On Pentagon's Cooking Show

Military Chefs Battle On Pentagon's Cooking Show

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From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Among the Defense Department's many responsibilities: fighting two wars, looking out for three million employees, et cetera, there's also producing a weekly cooking show. Yep, every week on the Pentagon Channel you can catch some of the military's best chefs.

NPR's defense correspondent Mary Louise Kelly got to watch as they began shooting new episodes, and she has this report straight from the set of "The Grill Sergeants."

Sergeant First Class BRAD TURNER (Chef, "The Grill Sergeants"): Today, on "The Grill Sergeants," we are doing Indian food.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Meet Sergeant First Class Brad Turner. He's the original grill sergeant, the star of the show. He's decked out in a starched white chef's hat and coat emblazoned with U.S. Army decals. And today, well, you heard the man, he's cooking Indian.

Sgt. TURNER: We're going to be doing a little tandoori chicken, we're going to do some couscous and we're going to do a beautiful chickpea salad.

KELLY: Brad Turner is presiding over a set featuring an impressive grill, big brass pots, two sets of burners. They're filming these episodes here in the teaching theater of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Tucked in a corner are a violin, accordion and double bass player from the Air Force band, and calling the shots - and five big TV cameras - is director Andrew Miller(ph).

Mr. ANDREW MILLER (Director, "The Grill Sergeants"): Stand by to cue the band and cue the band. Quiet on the set.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MILLER: Stand by to dissolve to three and cue them. And dissolve to three, cue them, open mic.

KELLY: This is the third season of "The Grill Sergeants," which is broadcast to troops around the world on the American Forces Network and here in the States, on the Pentagon Channel. All the chefs are active-duty military. Some are mess hall cooks. Some are aides to generals. Although, the show itself does not exactly smack of strict military discipline.

Sgt. TURNER: I'm going to go ahead and get these onions chopped, show you this and then...

(Soundbite of music)

Sgt. TURNER: (Singing) Oh, oh, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Okay, we're going to put this in here just like this.

KELLY: This is one of eight new episodes for the fall season - all focused on a different country's cuisine. The day we visited: Indian, Korean and Mexican. Past seasons have featured more military themes. One episode cast a Navy cook whipping up admirals' faves. That was seared ahi tuna and lamb with blueberry wine sauce, in case you were wondering. You may also be wondering...

Mr. BRIAN KUMIA (Executive Producer, "The Grill Sergeants"): What is the Department of Defense producing a cooking show? I mean it's a fair question.

KELLY: Executive producer Brian Kumia.

Mr. KUMIA: The Pentagon Channel, it's not just briefings and hearings, it's lifestyle programming. So we have fitness programs, and cooking is a very palatable thing for our audience.

KELLY: Grill Sergeant Brad Turner puts it another way.

Sgt. TURNER: We serve our country. That does not mean we don't enjoy a good Chateaubriand. It also doesn't mean we don't enjoy a good hot dog. You see what I'm saying?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: Turner grew up in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward. He remains partial to a good cup of gumbo. But he didn't learn to cook himself until he enlisted.

Sgt. TURNER: I'm 100 percent military trained, bona fide, 100 percent Army.

KELLY: Turner was taught basic cooking and baking at Fort Dix, New Jersey. And then at age 19, he shipped out to Korea where he learned to feed a lot of hungry soldiers.

Sgt. TURNER: When you open up, there are 300 people waiting to eat. It's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sgt. TURNER: You learn. You learn how to work, how to cook. I often say that cooks have a no-fail mission three times a day. I don't know about any other military job. But our job, we are in a real mission every day.

KELLY: And that is the philosophy, Sergeant Turner says, that's carried him through his military career so far.

Sgt. TURNER: I do care about what I put out, you know. Whether I'm doing soup for 1,100 infantry soldiers on maneuvers in (unintelligible), Germany or baking biscuits for my engineer unit at four o'clock in the morning. And they pop open a box and there's some hot biscuits in there, I'm telling you, you get a lot of love back from some soldiers when you send them some hot biscuits and stuff in the field. You, ooh-whee.

KELLY: Turner was serving at Fort Lee, Virginia when Pentagon Channel producers approached him two years ago about a new show. They shot that first season at Fort Lee. And since then, they've filmed across the country. Show producer Linda Dodich says it is no small feat, trucking everything from TV cameras and a mobile control room, to sous chefs and the band - all to a new set. Among this shoot's particular challenges, rancid meat.

Ms. LINDA DODICH (Producer, "The Grill Sergeants"): We rolled in and we had all the food preordered. And we get here and apparently there was a power outage or something this weekend. And the meat was just all rotten and rank and nasty. So we had do a little last-minute shopping and creative menu changes. So that's -the production truck flat tire.

KELLY: Oh yeah, did we mention the tire? Here's executive producer Brian Kumia.

Mr. KUMIA: So, about 30 miles out, they had a blow-out tire on the driver's side front - it crushed sort of the front fender and went all the way down to the rims.

KELLY: This causing the 40-foot truck carrying the show's control room to skid right across the road. But the producers say all the snags eventually sort themselves out. And at last, when the chef and the band and the food all come together, they make a show that sings, like this one: Korean food.

Sgt. TURNER: Give me something that says beef because that's what we're doing today. We're doing bulgogi. Bulgogi means a fire meat and today we're doing a nice, oh yeah, oh yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

Sgt. TURNER: Ah, that's what's for dinner right there. That's what's for dinner, baby. All right, the one thing about Korean food that I absolutely love is it's a quick food. It doesn't take a long time, it doesn't take a long time, it doesn't take a long time, and I say it again, it doesn't take a long time. The length of time it took me to say that three times, most of this is already done, most of this is already, well, halfway ready. See, we got a nice little brown going. Can you smell it? Oh yeah, baby, oh yeah, there we go. Oh, we got beef going all over the place, beef going all over the place. Can you hang with it, hold on, don't go anywhere.

KELLY: By this point, the sound crew and the floor director are practically dancing in the aisles. And so it goes all day - three chefs, four episodes and it turns out, in the last one, Grill Sergeant Brad Turner has a little surprise in store just for me.

Sgt. TURNER: We have our chickpea salad. And we have a special guest, Ms. Mary Louise from NPR - that's National Public Radio.

KELLY: Every show you see, they have a taster, someone to devour the food that's just been cooked with gusto for the cameras. And, yes, the tandoori chicken and chickpeas were really good.

(Soundbite of music)

Sgt. TURNER: Give us some eatin' music, give us some eatin' music. My dear, thank you very much for being a wonderful guest here today.

KELLY: After a few more thank yous, that, as they say in showbiz, is a wrap. This is grill sergeant's chief taster Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: And you can find links to videos of the grill sergeants in action and check out their recipes at our Web site,

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