When the USS Ronald Reagan left Naval Station Norfolk (Virginia) on its maiden voyage, a civilian chef from Arizona was among the 3,000-member crew who went on the two-month journey around the tip of South America and to the aircraft carrier's home port in San Diego.
"The chef sacrificed his own time, away from his family and away from his job," says Cmdr. Danny King, who was on the USS Reagan for the 2004 trip. "He brought a lot of great ideas, and it really enhanced food service."
The chef's time aboard the USS Reagan was part of a program created by the U.S. Navy in partnership with the American Culinary Federation. Recognizing the effect food has on morale, the Navy sought additional training for culinary specialist sailors, who receive a swift two weeks of instruction in Virginia before they become responsible for the daily meals of crews ranging from 150 on a submarine to almost 6,000 on an aircraft carrier. The catch: The training needed to cost virtually nothing.
That led to Adopt-a-Ship. Naval Supply Systems Command recruits professional chefs to volunteer their time and expertise for stints ranging from a day to two months. The chefs work side-by-side with the Navy's culinary specialists, teaching and advising in the galleys as they prepare food together.
"First and foremost, it's a great morale booster for everybody," says Michael Harants, Naval Supply Systems Command corporate chef, who manages Adopt-a-Ship. "The kids get an opportunity to work with a culinary professional from the industry who can show them industry practices. … What it boils down to is an increased quality of life overall for the command."
Since its inception, 540 chefs have trained more than 7,000 culinary specialists. The Navy values the 3,480 days of additional training at $8.1 million.
Both the Navy's culinary specialists and the civilian chefs receive continuing-education hours recognized by the American Culinary Federation, a professional organization that certifies chefs. Culinary specialists may apply the credits toward professional certification if they pursue a culinary career after their military service, and civilian chefs may use the hours toward maintaining their certification.
For its program to increase culinary specialists' skills and boost sailors' quality of life, the Navy is the 2011 winner of the Optimas Award for Partnership.