PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Lee Foreman, a supervisor in the galley at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP), said he was "doing nothing" when his wife walked into the living room one day after work, caught him watching the Food Network and said, "You need to go to culinary school."
"I've just always loved food and my wife was right," Foreman said. "I wanted to do something productive with my time, and one of the best schools was in the area, so it just made sense."
Foreman became a certified chef after graduating from the Culinary Institute of Virginia. The completion of his degree in culinary arts earned him the title of "chef," and now he's known around NMCP as "Chef Lee."
"Before [culinary school] if an onion needed to be chopped I'd chop it, but in culinary school, they would get a ruler out and measure each cut because even cuts mean even cooking," Foreman said.
While receiving his advanced culinary education, Foreman followed a rigorous routine of starting his day in the NMCP galley at 4 a.m. and ending at school at 10 p.m., three days a week for 13 months. On the off days, he filled his spare time with studying food processes and memorizing culinary terminology.
"I'd been making [macaroni] and cheese my whole life," Foreman said. "But now, I know the sauce in the mac and cheese is described by a French cooking term called 'bechamel,' which means white sauce."
Foreman credits his motivation to endure and complete the program in one word.
"Pride," Foreman said. "My father said you have to have pride in everything you do."
Foreman's father was also the early inspiration for his passion for cooking. He and his father awoke early on weekends in his hometown of Las Vegas to light a fire pit to create Texas-style barbecue over an open-wood fire bed.
"My father can do anything," Foreman said. "I can call him up with a cooking question and he'll be able to run me through what I need to do, step by step, 'til this day."
Foreman's father, a former Army mechanic, instilled the military work ethic early in Foreman's life. Typical Saturday mornings growing up began sharply at 5 a.m. with yardwork and chores in the Las Vegas heat.
Foreman credits the work ethic instilled by his father and his newly-appointed title as chef as a major proponent of launching him into the Navy's culinary spotlight. In 2017, he was selected to join the 2017 Navy culinary arts team as a team trainer to compete against other culinary teams in the armed services. Foreman's coaching contributed to the team's 22 individual medals.
"Since going to school, I've gotten a lot more opportunity - I've been recommended for flag duty," he said. "Hopefully, I end up being stationed somewhere in Washington, D.C., and have that piece to add to my resume when I leave the Navy."
The success of Foreman's training has inspired four other Sailors who work in NMCP's galley, including Foreman's supervisor, to attend the same culinary arts program he completed.
Foreman's immediate responsibility at NMCP is serving as the galley supervisor, although he likes to go beyond his supervisory role and teach his staff the skills he learned in his culinary training.
"I like to be hands-on and show my guys (his staff) what they can do with simple items," he said. "You can turn any item into something very nice in just a few little steps, like seasoning the dish throughout the cooking process."
Plated meals being delivered to patients throughout the medical center are all verified and checked by Foreman before leaving the galley.
"It doesn't matter if it's an individual plate or a whole pan," Foreman said. "We'll take pride in what we put out. I've set the expectation that the last customer will get the same quality as what the first person got."
Foreman has served in the Navy for more than 10 years and plans to stay until retirement. He hopes to one day be of the caliber of a Michelin star chef. The Michelin star is a rating system used by the Michelin Guide to rate the highest quality restaurants with one, two or three stars. Although the Michelin star is awarded to a restaurant, the credit for it goes to the chef in charge of the kitchen.
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