A Day in the Life of a Military Chef

Samantha PoeACF Chef Samantha Poe, Sergeant First Class in the Army, has spent the last 12 years applying the lessons she learned in the civilian culinary world to her current job as an enlisted aide, where she cooks for a general officer, as well as assists him with various daily tasks. Her mission is clear, and in some ways, much different from being a chef in the civilian workforce. We spoke to Chef Poe to find out what a typical day looks like as a military chef.

What does a day in the life of a military chef look like?

Right now, my day looks very different than what it used to, or what the average military chef’s day looks like. You’re going to do physical training with the unit you’re with at six, and then you’re going to be at the dining facility by 8:39. Then you’re going to work in the kitchen and put out lunch and dinner, and hopefully you’re out of there by eight o’clock.

It’s long days and you may get weekends off, or you may get every other weekend off, it just kind of depends on where you’re stationed. And then on the flip side of that, you could show up to the dining facility at 5 a.m. to put out breakfast, help with lunch, and then you’re out by two o’clock. Then you go do physical training, and you’re home by 4:35. You’ll alternate in between those two schedules to hopefully not get burnt out if you have a good command.

Currently during my day, I do physical training on my own, get my daughter to school, and then report to my boss’s office. I’ll check in with him in the morning, see what his day looks like, and find out if there’s anything specific he needs from me. Then I’ll make him lunch, get that to him at his office, and take care of any other errands or tasks he needs. I get his uniform reset, make him dinner and put it in his fridge for him, get cleaned up, and try to be gone and on my way home by about five o’clock.

Do you have the freedom to create menus yourself or does your boss request what he wants?

A little bit of both. When starting this assignment, I put together a fairly lengthy preference sheet for him to go through and to mark, yes, no, maybe likes, don’t likes, things like that. And now that I’ve gotten to know him pretty well, he’ll ask me for certain things if he wants something specific, but otherwise on a daily basis, I make him whatever I find fresh. A big part of the job is to keep my boss healthy, so I’m making sure that what he’s eating helps facilitate that. And then when it comes to events, I’ll give him menu options to select from based on the type of event.

What kinds of dishes do you generally make for him?

He is extremely health conscious, so right now I’m doing a split of vegetarian and vegan meals on a daily basis—a lot of salads and pretty simple things. But when it comes to events, we’ll do anything from three to five courses typically, depending on who we’re hosting. Recently it’s been lots of beef, but that’s simply because we have some pretty great local farmers where I am in the Northern Tennessee, Southern Kentucky area.

Do you enjoy military cooking as much as you enjoyed cooking in the civilian world?

Yes. I’ve been so fortunate to have so many great opportunities in the military that there hasn’t been a huge difference. For me, the biggest difference is just some of the people I’ve gotten to serve. I’ve gotten to serve Medal of Honor recipients and Wounded Warriors, and it’s always a huge honor to cook for them.

In the military, it’s unique because you get to see the impact that you have a little bit more as far as somebody’s day-to-day, rather than working in a restaurant or a hotel. In restaurants and hotels, a lot of the time you’re seeing people on their best day, or a fun date or something like that. In the military, you could be serving somebody on the worst day of their life, and you’re not necessarily making their day better, but you might be able to give them five minutes of peace during what could be an atrocious day. That part is unique and special, and that’s a pretty neat aspect of my job.

Chef Poe will be a presenter at the 2023 ACF National Convention on July 16-19 in New Orleans. Click here for more information about the event and to register.