Cooking isn’t something Master Sgt. Patrick Harmon has been formally trained in, but he’s picked up a trick or two over the years. He makes a “mean salmon” and a pretty good vinaigrette, he said, but what he enjoys most is sharing not just the food but the method behind it with others.
Four months ago, Harmon started leading cooking classes every Thursday at the Warrior Transition Battalion. The classes have covered topics ranging from the use of herbs and cooking oils to how to glaze a cake and filet a fish.
“I have a passion for cooking,” he said. “Since I’m diabetic and I believe in healthy eating, I wanted to pass this along to fellow Soldiers and to those who are looking to better their diet. And it gives them a chance also to showcase their skills in cooking. I love the enjoyment people get out of tasting good, quality food, and I love the enjoyment they get out of making it themselves.
“When you take the ownership of preparing your own food, you’re taking full responsibility for your health. You’re saying, ‘I’m going to take responsibility for what goes into my body. You can control your diet, which will create a healthier you.”
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Master Sgt. Marjorie Ulloa started coming to the cooking classes soon after she was transferred to the WTB two months ago.
Thanks to Harmon, she’s already learned a healthier way to prepare salmon and she appreciates the family atmosphere of the classes, especially considering many don’t have family here, she said.
“It gives me something to look forward to. I meet new people, and I get to teach them about a different culture,” said Ulloa, a native of Ecuador whose husband, from the Dominican Republic, is in Kuwait.
“I love cooking,” she said. “I love the fact that with food you can bring a smile to somebody’s face. With food, you can make a friend. It’s a good feeling when you see people smiling and you see them enjoying it. Food is where the family is.”
Occasionally, the classes are themed, and everyone brings their best — soul food, Italian cuisine, grilled meat, Cajun cooking. For the hors d’oeuvres and desserts night Thursday, Ulloa brought a vegetarian corn and blueberry salad representative of typical Latin American cuisine. Like most other participants, she brought the raw ingredients and prepared her dish in the Warrior Hall kitchen.
As people cook together, it builds camaraderie, said retired Sgt. 1st Class John McMahon, who’s volunteered with the battalion since February. Thursday, McMahon prepared what he described as “not an everyday dessert” — baked Alaska, a physics-defying phenomena resulting in a warm meringue-topped cake filled with ice cream that’s still cold.
It was one of more than a dozen recipes people shared after the event. Harmon said he can also take requests if seasoned or aspiring cooks want to learn how to make a specific dish.
“(Cooking) is a social thing,” said Maj. Randall Reynolds, who joined the class for the first time Thursday. “It can be therapeutic.”
The class — and the meal afterward — can be a good way for Soldiers to get their minds off the medical appointments and challenges they face while stationed at the WTB, Reynolds said.Because of the therapeutic benefit, Harmon said he plans to keep the classes going as long as he’s assigned to the battalion.
“It’s very restorative,” he said. “I have pain, but by getting out and doing something I love and enjoy, it helps. It puts that pain in a different perspective. This is a part of my healing process.”