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Feeding 5,000 daily task for former Army chef

 

Last updated 7/19/2007 at Noon



My nephew Michael Goldman introduced me to a true friend and true American hero when he visited recently. His friend, Gary Kropp, is a US Army veteran now retired with 23 years service. He is also a passionate cook who more than once in his career was in charge of feeding thousands at bases in the US and abroad. He was also assigned duty three times in Iraq, was wounded and speaks with pride about his culinary work and military service.

The story begins when Gary was about 14 growing up on a farm in the Midwest. He did something quite unusual: he took a class in home economics. Other chums did the same so they would be close to more girls. Gary took it to learn to cook. During that class Gary said to himself, “Mastering these basic principles could lead to a career.”

After high school he decided to join the Army. It was the Army because since WWI all family members have served only in the Army. After taking lots of the tests the recruiter suggested several options. Gary said, “I want to be a cook.”

He attended basic training for cooks at a military chef school on premise that if he did well he could go to advanced chef school. He was one of 22 chosen that year to go to the Advanced Culinary Arts school in Virginia. Next he attended the CIA… not the intelligence unit, the Culinary Institute of America. Of course, getting all this education had a price… he needed to re-up for four more years.

His first military assignment was in Germany as a corporal (Spec 4) doing food service for field artillery unit cooking in the field and in garrison feeding about 600 persons three meals a day. Next came Korea, where he was cooking on a regular schedule and so had time for travel. He chose to go to Japan to learn more about Japanese cuisine. He said he went to many small villages, learning how to interact with local cooks and culture.

Then back to the USA, where he became involved in culinary competitions. Local chefs would come to judge teams from the Army worldwide. He modestly noted that he won more than a few times. He specialized in pastry and decorating. Next came a stint as personal chef to a four-star general stationed at the Pentagon. He pursued a hotel and restaurant management degree.

Next came a series of postings that allowed for travel in Italy, Spain, France and England. Food service operations sergeant… feeding 1,500. He was then assigned to the 101st Airborne, which had 30,000 personnel with six dining facilities (mess halls) feeding 5,000 per meal, with 495 personnel assigned to cooking. He was also in Desert Storm Iraq (1990-1991) with food service that fed 2,500 to 7,000 persons at any given meal.

Gary then became an active Army Reservist and for 10 years was sent around the US to train other cooks. The last three units in which he served were all deployed to Iraq.

Gary says the overseas work was hard on his two daughters, Alisha, 16, and Kayla, 12. After retirement he returned to the Midwest to care for his parents, Harold and Carol Kropp.

For now, cooking is on the back burner. However, Gary said whenever the future presents a culinary opportunity, he will return to his first love: the kitchen.

I, for one, am grateful for men like Gary who have given so much of their lives to protect our American way of life. I am happy, too, to have been able to cook a couple of meals for Gary.

Gary’s Bananas Foster

Over Ice Cream

4 oranges

4-6 servings ice cream, any flavor

1 lb. brown sugar

2 bananas

1 oz. rum

Banana-flavored liqueur

Cut oranges in half. Squeeze juice and set aside.

Portion ice cream into serving dishes. (Vanilla is the most common choice.)

Melt butter in a large skillet over heat. Add brown sugar and reserved orange juice. Simmer until caramelized but not burned.

Add banana-flavored liqueur over caramelized glaze. Gently stir in sliced bananas.

Ignite rum and pour over banana mixture. Quickly spoon over ice cream in serving dishes. Serves 4-6.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Heavy-duty foil

Yellow or white cake mix

2 eggs

1 1/3 cups water

1/3 cup pineapple juice drained from pineapple rings

1 small can pineapple rings

1 ½ tsp. cooking

Maraschino cherries

2 cups brown sugar

1 stick butter or margarine, melted

Line a 9x12-inch baking pan with foil.

Drain pineapple rings, reserving 1/3 cup of juice.

Place pineapple rings in a row on the foil. Put cherries into the center of the rings. Prepare cake mix using 2 eggs, water and pineapple juice.

Sprinkle brown sugar over fruit and pour melted butter over brown sugar.

Pour cake batter over all. Bake in a 400-degree oven for about 25 minutes or until done.

Cool cake, then flip cake onto another pan or platter of the same size. Serves 10.

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Garlic Sauce

12 chicken breasts, 6 oz. each

2 lb. angel hair pasta

Marinade:

1 bottle Italian-style dressing

6 oz. soy sauce

2 cups water

Garlic sauce:

2 ¼ cups heavy cream

1 ½ tsp. fresh minced garlic

Salt and white pepper to taste

Combine Italian dressing, soy sauce and water in a shallow non-reactive stainless pan or glass container. Marinate chicken breasts in marinade overnight.

To make sauce, combine cream and garlic. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to simmer. Taste and add salt and pepper. Simmer at 140 degrees.

Take chicken from marinade. Broil about 15 minutes or until done. Slice and set aside, keeping warm.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water (add 2 tbsp. cooking oil) just until tender, about 12 minutes. Drain thoroughly.

Place drained pasta on plate. Top with cooked chicken, then cover chicken with garlic sauce. Garnish and serve. Serves 12.

 

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