News story

The flying chef of Afghanistan

A chef from the British Army has been flying around the front line in Helmand province, Afghanistan, feeding troops in austere locations using only basic equipment to produce quality meals.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Warrant Officer Class 2 Simon Macey flambés thick cuts of fillet steak

Warrant Officer Class 2 Simon Macey flambés thick cuts of fillet steak [Picture: Sergeant Steve Blake RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) Simon Macey is a trained chef and part of the Royal Logistic Corps. As a Forward Operating Base Catering Warrant Officer he is responsible for the front line feeding of most of the troops based in Helmand.

Having left Camp Bastion armed with 700kg of fresh food and other goodies, he has been getting out and about by helicopter, road vehicles, and sometimes even on foot.

WO2 Macey said:

I have been doing this for around six weeks now, and working with a colleague we have visited almost half of the checkpoints [CPs].

I Iike to put a spin on this as if the troops were on ‘Come Dine With Me’. I arrived at a location with a box of goodies and an idea of the menu for the meals.

On this occasion it’s the turn of 9, 10 and 11 Platoons of C Company, 2nd Battalion The Rifles, who are normally based in Ballykinler, Northern Ireland.

The makeshift kitchens that the soldiers use have been created by the occupants of the CP and the contents of operational ration packs (ORPs) are used by the soldiers to create meals and, being quite inventive, they come up with a variety of menus.

Troops savour the 'Come Dine With Me' experience provided by Warrant Officer Class 2 Simon Macey

Troops savour the 'Come Dine With Me' experience provided by Warrant Officer Class 2 Simon Macey [Picture: Sergeant Steve Blake RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

The ORP contains all the calories front line troops need, but for longevity purposes most of the items are dry food or pre-cooked bagged meals, with some chocolate and sweets:

I bring a myriad of different fresh food to give them a bit of a treat; also most of the smaller locations now have basic gas cookers in place to cut down on cooking time,” WO2 Macey explained.

Today I am at CP Chabaak in NES(S) [Nahr-e Saraj (South)] and the boys are looking forward to me cooking for them so that they have a premier meal when they come off patrol.

The weather during the early mornings is having an effect on daily living conditions; at minus nine degrees Celsius doing any chores is demanding, water to wash with has to be heated and the temperature is difficult to maintain.

WO2 Macey has served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Cyprus. He is from the Northern Ireland Garrison Support Unit based in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, and volunteered for Operation HERRICK 15.

WO2 Macey said:

Even something as simple as making a cup of tea or boiling an egg can take 15 minutes or more. The gas cooker I have brought along has been gratefully received.

I am here for 24 hours and will give the soldiers here three freshly cooked meals in that time.

Breakfast is early tomorrow and they will have porridge with honey and bacon and egg baps before they leave for the day.

This evening I am cooking two choices, a chicken curry with spicy Thai rice, fillet steak with a mushroom and onion sauce, fragrant noodles and home-baked sun dried tomato and garlic bread. Topped off with a homemade raspberry cheesecake.

Lunch tomorrow will be a favourite of most troops, steak burger, chicken and bacon burger, fresh cooked chunky chips with a spicy salsa salad.

For a snack I bring along loads of healthy snack bars and fresh fruit which can be left with them.

Using basic equipment WO2 Macey is soon hard at work, producing the meals on a four-ring portable gas cooker, with a small portable oven to keep things warm.

He even had time to play to the camera with some arty food chopping and a flambe of the thick-cut fillet steak.

The troops of 10 Platoon returned from their patrol to be greeted by the aromas of marinating steak and fresh bread.

It is a time for the platoon to sit down together and chat over the day’s events and be served with their food for a change. The atmosphere slightly replicates the ‘Come Dine With Me’ programme as talk is all about the food on the table.

WO2 Macey said:

I believe they are going to score me after this, which is quite frightening as this has not happened before; judging by the silence when dessert was produced and the empty plates I should not have to worry.

I am just pleased to come out here, where insurgents are still operating and the ISAF troops are still actively patrolling and living in austere conditions, with fresh rations and a few tips on how to vary the meals they eat.

To give them a bit of relief from having to cook for themselves, to watch them relax a little and have some food like they may get when at home.

In some locations they have been on ORP for two months, so fresh is quite a pleasant change.

The moment of truth has arrived and the first score for WO2 Macey’s effort is a seven out of ten; some comment on having to use plastic cutlery brings the score down. It all gets better from there though, with the next soldiers scoring 8, 9, and finally 10 for the meal.

As the troops get on with the pan-bashing (military term for washing up), WO2 Macey packs his personal gear, grabs his rifle and is off by vehicle to the next location on his list. He has also to complete his plan for the upcoming Christmas Day lunches.

He said:

Our plan is to get around to all the checkpoints within Task Force Helmand, even the ones that are really difficult to reach, and serve them with a proper roast turkey lunch with all the trimmings, followed by traditional Christmas pudding, minus the brandy butter of course.

Published 13 December 2011