Army Sgt. Dustin Campbell works with junior Kiara Taylor and senior Makayla Reed to turn ingredients from military MREs into a different entree during the MRE Chopped Challenge.

Army Sgt. Dustin Campbell works with junior Kiara Taylor and senior Makayla Reed to turn ingredients from military MREs into a different entree during the MRE Chopped Challenge.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


MREs turn into creative meals with ‘Chopped’ competition

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 11, 2018

 Culinary arts student Sapfyre Reed, a junior, uses a blowtorch to melt cheese on a stuffed pepper during the MRE Chopped Challenge May 9 at South Lake High School.

Culinary arts student Sapfyre Reed, a junior, uses a blowtorch to melt cheese on a stuffed pepper during the MRE Chopped Challenge May 9 at South Lake High School.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


ST. CLAIR SHORES — In the field, troops open a packet, explore the contents and then “cook” the main entree in a meal ready to eat, or MRE, with the assistance of a flameless ration heater that is activated with water.

The “brisket entree (gravy with seasoned beef brisket slices),” “chicken, noodles and vegetables in sauce” or “chili with beans,” among other options, can then be savored — or thrown down the hatch in two minutes or less for infantrymen in boot camp.

Along with the main course, troops could get some candy, a brownie, some bread or fruit. Sometimes, the meals have to be made to last.

“I lived off one MRE for three nights,” remembers Army Sgt. Dustin Campbell. He was doing reconnaissance in Germany, he said, and only had one MRE and 100 ounces of water. He had to make it last.

The students in culinary arts class at South Lake High School had no such constraints during class May 9, however. Instead, they had to take the powders, dehydrated food and processed products in several MREs and turn them into something tasty and Instagram-worthy during the one-hour MRE Chopped Challenge.

This is the third year that Chef Darrel Shepherd has had his students team up with members of the military for the challenge, which he based off of the Food Network show “Chopped,” where chefs compete to turn baskets of mystery ingredients into a three-course meal.

Recruiters from the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, along with members of the U.S. Coast Guard, active and retired, joined forces with the students to take the components of three MREs, along with the culinary arts program pantry and cooler, potatoes, rice, fruit, vegetables and pasta, to make new entrees, drinks and desserts.

“MREs aren’t bad,” said Marine Corps. Staff Sgt. Marco Corral. In the field, he said, troops could just make and eat the MRE as is or, as happened more often, mix and match side dishes, desserts and other components with fellow service members to find what they like to eat best.

“Sometimes we trade with one another to make a better meal,” agreed Marine Corps. Staff Sgt. Antonio Aguero. “Chili macaroni is my favorite.”

Campbell said that, as an infantryman, a lot of his time is spent in the field eating MREs, so he was really interested in seeing what the students created with the packets.

Some of the students came prepared for the challenge.

“I most definitely watched a bunch of videos in preparation of this,” said Maya Law, a junior. She also brought some recipes and her own spices to make sure she had what she needed for the challenge.

She and her teammate, junior T’ana Battle, created a gumbo stew and a curry dish with their MRE ingredients.

Most of the students were surprised with what was in an actual MRE packet.

“It’s not what I thought it was going to be,” said senior Makayla Reed. “I thought we were going to start with raw materials.”

Nevertheless, her team was one of the winners with potato croquettes topped with chili sauce, a rice and bean stuffed bell pepper and burrito.

Making a smoothie using a tropical fruit punch drink powder from the MRE as a base, senior Shanna Talaban agreed the challenge was harder than she had been expecting.

“I should have probably been more prepared, put more thought process into what I was going to make,” she said. “Other than that, it’s a lot of fun.”

Shepherd said he likes bringing in members of the military to meet his students on a different level because his son joined the Marine Corps. He said he likes to show his students that there are many routes to a profession and not all go through college.

The students’ culinary skills would be appreciated on a U.S. Coast Guard boat, said Bill Dyda, a retired member of the Coast Guard and a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. His team was one of the teams to win the challenge with fried chimichangas with Spanish rice and homemade salsa on the side, and a fruit and whipped cream dessert with an MRE fruit compote as its base.

Dyda said that the Coast Guard pays bonuses for recruits with culinary skills.

The Culinary Arts Program has a new home in South Lake High School with its own expanded custom kitchen where students can learn and prepare food for South Lake Bistro, a student-led, state-licensed restaurant that will begin service in October. The bistro now has its own entrance and parking area behind the tennis courts on the school’s east end.

Shepherd said the kitchen has already passed all inspections. When furnished in its entirety, the new bistro will have its own entrance on the east side of the school building and will seat 60.

He said he’s looking forward to having the bistro up and running again. The restaurant, formerly called Lake Front Bistro, closed at the end of the 2017 school year for its move to a different location in the school with its own entrance, more space and a customized workspace.

“I have great kids and when I watch them interact with the public, it’s amazing,” he said.

For more information, check out www.southlakebistro.weebly.com or find South Lake Bistro on Facebook.

Corral said that he learned from the students during the challenge, as well.

“They actually gave me some pointers how to flavor stuff because of the things they learned,” he said.