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Challenge Winners Tapped At State Fair Competition

What did we learn about a Meal Ready-to-Eat?

That it can’t stump the experts, or at least not during CalVet’s seventh MRE Cooking Challenge at the California State Fair on Thursday, July 18. They turned the virtually indestructible and – to some in the military – indigestible field sustenance known as the Meal-Ready-to-Eat into works of culinary art, and, in the main event, a ‘Meal Really worth Eating.’

The MRE Challenge was the highlight of the State Fair’s Military and Veterans Appreciation Day.

The winning team consisted of local chef owner Aaron Anderson of the Purple Pig Eatery and California Army National Guard Maj. Shannon Terry, who grabbed a chicken pesto MRE and turned it into a four-course meal. They used pretzels as croutons in a kale salad. And they turned the cinnamon roll included in the package into an apple pie using rosemary and a Balsamic sauce finish.

“He took it to a different level,” Terry said of Chief Anderson.

The team of Marine veteran Bryce Palmer of Mulvaney’s and veteran Michael Heddin finished second, and the team of Jon Clemons of The Porch and veteran Rob Garcia finished third.

Judges included CalVet Secretary Dr. Vito Imbasciani, Lt. Col Jonathan Shiroma and Jenny Ramirez, a U.S. Army veteran and previous MRE Challenge champion.

Sgt. Maj. Tim Guden, of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command in Virginia, co-presented the winner’s ribbons with Penelope Knobloch, who won the MRE Challenge in 2017 and 2018.

Earlier in the day, the three chefs used the stovetops at the counter as easels for their cooking artistry. Each chef took a unique approach in presenting their dishes as food magazine photo-worthy creations.

The event drew enthusiastic crowds for all three sessions, beginning with a pair of California State Guardsmen – Staff Sergeant Phil Cotton and Sergeant 1st Class Louis Tremor. They explained the history of the MRE, how it is used by military personnel in the field, and engaged with the audience – which included several veterans – in swapping stories about their experiences eating MREs. They also offered samples to the audience.

The information flowed, and perhaps a bit too much at one point. Cotton got the biggest laugh of the session when he explained the gastrointestinal effects of the MRE he considers the best tasting – the Chili Cheese Mac – on a soldier’s system. The other MREs might not demand a pit stop for a few days. The Chili Cheese Mac entrée?

“About 10 minutes,” he said. “It cleans you out.”