Senior Chief Petty Officer Derrick Davenport, from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff team plates desserts at the Pentagon March 25, 2013. Davenport has been named top "chef of the year" after a Armed Forces Chef of the Year competition. (Thomas Brown / Staff)
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From satisfying a sub crew’s hunger to creating culinary art for the world’s top defense leaders, this Navy cook has done it all, and now he has an award to prove he’s among the best.
Senior Chief Culinary Specialist (SS) Derrick Davenport was named Armed Forces Chef of the Year at an interservice competition March 6-15 at Fort Lee, Va.
His day job since 2011 is working as a chef in the home of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Davenport, who used to work in the chairman’s dining room at the Pentagon and continues to train the staff there, is in charge of dinner parties at the Fort Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., home of Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. Davenport has cooked for foreign dignitaries and celebrities.
May will be a busy month with three to four dinner parties every week, averaging about 24 guests each.
When he’s not getting ready for a meal, Davenport, 36, manages Dempsey’s historic home, cleans the official entertaining spaces, keeps the general’s uniform in order and grocery-shops.
While Davenport and his colleagues take care of the larger dinner parties, they don’t prepare other meals for the family, since Mrs. Dempsey loves to cook, he said.
The former submariner talked with Military Times on March 25.
Q. What’s your favorite meal to cook while deployed?
A. On the boat, we used to make this stuff called “Wicked Chicken,” and the crew would just go nuts over it. It was like a buffalo wing, but a boneless, skinless chicken breast. It was spicy, and if the ventilation on the submarine was low when we were cooking it, everyone on the boat was tearing up. But it was good.
Q. What’s a typical day like in the kitchen in the home of the Joint Chiefs chairman?
A. Dinner parties can be interesting. We go to several different places for our shopping. First, we use the commissary, but there’s sometimes a lot of specialty ingredients, so we have to go down to the wharf. When the boss entertains, sometimes it may be the only time his guest visits the U.S. during his tenure, … so we try to kick it up a couple notches.
Q. Is it ever intimidating cooking for the Joint Chief and all his guests?
A. It can be, but the Dempseys are very personable and very laid back, so that makes the job easier. I think the hardest thing for us is when our foreign counterparts come in because of the cultural differences and dietary restrictions. We don’t want to have an international incident because this person can’t eat this or someone’s allergic to this. So that’s the big challenge.
Q. What’s your favorite part about being a military chef?
A. I like the feedback you get. It’s kind of an instant thing. You know if you did a good meal, and you know if you didn’t. You don’t need to get a comment in a comment box or an “atta-boy.” You just watch the plates come back and you can pretty much tell how you did for that meal.
Q. If you were stuck on a desert island, what three foods would you take with you and why?
A. I think eggs would be one because there are a lot of things you can do with eggs. I’d take a couple cattle with me because I crave red meat. And a bunch of seeds to grow vegetables.