Photo Information

Gunnery Sgt. Trevor Havens and his daughter get ready to compete in the National Museum of the Marine Corps Second Annual MRE Cook-off in Triangle, Va., Feb. 1, 2014. The contest had extra spaces for contestants and Havens volunteered to participate from the crowd.

Photo by Cpl. Melissa Karnath

Meals-ready-to-win: Contestants cook field rations for top honors

5 Feb 2014 | Cpl. Melissa Karnath

Visitors to the National Museum of the Marine Corps may not have expected to smell the pleasant aroma of prepackaged field rations cooking upon their arrival. However, they were greeted by a buffet of aromas from barbeque sauce, pesto and hot sauce. The smells wafted from creative dishes, which may have looked like slop and goo, but ended up being award winning and devoured, during the National Museum of the Marine Corps’ Second Annual Meal-Ready-to-Eat Cook-off Feb. 1.

Eight contestants participated in the contest. They each picked two MREs at random and combined the ingredients to cook a meal. Contestants cooked the ingredients in a canteen cup over a sterno portable folding stove. Each contestant was allowed to bring ingredients from home, so as long as they fit in a gallon-size bag.

“The cook-off is one of the ways the museum reaches out to the community and presents fun things to do that are a little different,” said Michele Flynn, the visitor services manager for the museum. 

Kris Sandbakken, head chef for the museum’s restaurants and catering, judged the contest.

“I’m looking for someone who keeps things simple and thinks outside the box,” Sandbakken said. “Adding a little bit of seasoning or a condiment can have a huge impact on taste.”

John Crist, a participant from Hagerstown, Md., returned to the cook-off after competing last year. Crist served as an active duty Marine at Marine Barracks Washington and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

“I like the challenge of trying to win first place,” Crist said. “It’s a great way to meet other people too.”
Contestants sorted the contents of their MREs and mixed them together.  Their creations were then displayed on plates ready for taste-testing.

Gunnery Sgt. Trevor Havens and his daughter made a Mexican stew with cheese and bacon.  The stew was an orange goo decorated with bacon bits and cheese sprinkled on top.

After Sandbakken tasted each contestant’s creation, he and the museum staff decided there should be more than one winner.

Crist was announced as the overall winner for his barbeque and potato sandwich. Havens won best dessert for his chocolate chip cookie topped with a dollop of peanut butter and sprinkled with Reese’s Pieces. Awards were also given for a green pesto dish as best entrée’ and a spread of potatoes with bread and a cookie as best presentation.

Each winner received a golden canteen cup.

“I’ll definitely be back next year with my golden canteen cup for luck,” Crist said with a smile.

For more information about the National Museum of the Marine Corps visit or call (703) 784-6107.

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