Meet the 2022 ACF Chef of the Year and Pastry Chef of the Year

 

By John Bartimole

If it’s true the armed services run on their stomachs, then members of the United States Coast Guard may be some of the best fed. Perhaps that’s because it has the rare honor of boasting both ACF’s 2022 National Chef of the Year and National Pastry Chef of the Year award winners in the same service.

Screen Shot 2022-11-16 at 5.51.23 PMCulinary Specialist First Class Petty Officer Danielle Hughes (Chef of the Year) and Culinary Specialist Chief Petty Officer Troy Matthew Shaw (Pastry Chef of the Year) earned those coveted titles at ACF’s National Convention, marking a remarkable dual accomplishment.

Both followed a not-so-direct route to their careers but ultimately found their passion in that service and in the galley. “I tried out a few colleges, and to be honest, I could find no

direction at all,” Chef Hughes says. “My dad pushed me to join the Coast Guard, telling me it had a lot to offer, including the opportunity to travel. Not only did it give me tremendous travel opportunities, it also opened the door to my culinary career.”

A 10-year veteran of the Coast Guard and graduate of the Coast Guard’s Culinary Program, Chef Hughes says that completing the program “was the best decision I ever made. I don’t have a culinary degree. I got all of my experience from the Coast Guard. The opportunity, training and possibilities are endless. If you put in the work, you’ll be able to go far.”Screen Shot 2022-11-16 at 5.52.22 PM

Chef Shaw, a 16-year veteran of the Coast Guard, found his way toward the kitchen early, as well. “I attended a small culinary school in Houston — Culinary Institute Lenotre — and I worked in the restaurant industry for a while, including owning and operating a small cafe for a couple of years,” he says, before joining the Coast Guard.

He ended up leaving the Coast Guard — but not permanently — and dipped his toe back into the culinary world, obtaining a working visa and studying the art of cooking in Paris. “When I returned from Paris, I was more focused and rejoined the Coast Guard and was able to pick up the advanced education program offered by the service,” Chef Shaw says. “I went to the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, with the Coast Guard paying for my education.”

Chef Shaw earned a bachelor’s degree in baking and pastry arts and began his tour as a Coast Guard culinary instructor in Petaluma, California, where he was stationed for three years.

While Chef Hughes’ current and primary duty is cooking as the enlisted aid to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, she looks back fondly on her seven years at sea, when she cooked for her shipmates.

“Food is a big part of morale on a ship,” she says. “We gather around food, and the opportunity to create for my fellow service members is very rewarding.”

Chef Shaw agrees that on a ship, “the galley is the morale. For a moment, they can let go of that feeling of missing their families or loved ones and just take comfort in the food.” One of the keys to the success of both chefs’ prowess is “we make everything from scratch, from soup to dessert,” Chef Shaw says.

With 3 1⁄2 years left to go before he gets to his 20-year anniversary with the Coast Guard, Chef Shaw is planning to try something new.

“I’m going to strive to get my merchant marine license and pursue a career as a captain,” he says. “There is a strong need for captains, and the companies who need captains very much seek Coast Guard personnel.” Chef Shaw plans to use the Coast Guard’s education program, known as Coast Guard COOL (Credentialing Opportunities On-Line), to achieve that goal.

Chef Hughes is looking forward to another decade in the service and enjoys making classic French dishes the most. “I love breaking it down to the basics of cooking,” she says. When not immersed in her daily Coast Guard duties, Chef Hughes, who hails from Philadelphia, enjoys cooking chicken wings and making charcuterie boards at home. Chef Shaw, a Texan, enjoys grilling cheeseburgers and steak and making chicken fried steak.

For now, though, both chefs’ professional focus remains on cooking for their fellow service members in the Coast Guard — with Chef Shaw working directly for the Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard and Chef Hughes for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.Screen Shot 2022-11-16 at 5.52.29 PM

“We, as culinary leaders, want to make the experience as positive as possible for those with whom we serve, and we, as chefs, do that through food,” Chef Hughes says.

Both chefs are also focused on helping others rise through the ranks. Chef Shaw encourages newbies and future culinary specialists in the service to “seek the opportunities to better yourself. Anything is achievable if you put in the work.”

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of National Culinary Review. Click here to download the full issue. 

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