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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 7 July, 2020
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Column: ‘Next I boil 300 eggs’ – a day in the life of an army chef

In the latest of our dispatches from Irish troops on the Blue Line in Lebanon, battalion chef Cpl Joe Agnew describes cooking for 350 hungry soldiers in a mobile kitchen.

Cpl Joe Agnew

THEY SAY AN army marches on its belly, and from first hand experience this is well and truly the case!

While the rest of the 104th Infantry Battalion have a lovely lie in until 0600hrs, as duty cook today I am up at 0430. My role as duty cook begins at 5am with the preparation for breakfast. I start off by preparing a huge pot of Lebanese porridge and hard boiled eggs – roughly 300 of them. Once everything is ready I lay the food out in the self service bays for the troops to avail of. Breakfast begins at 0630hrs in Camp Shamrock.

Once the rest of the battalion head off to prepare for Battalion morning parade, I then have my breakfast.

Next up is the preparation of the lunch menu. We normally give the troops a choice of three main meals with four side salad options and either chips, pasta or rice to accompany. Today’s menu is turkey goujon wraps, breaded cod or pasta bake.

I normally work in a team with two other chefs and we prepare the dinner for later on in the day which involves the preparation of all meats and vegetables. Normally we also provide some homemade scones or brown bread as a treat for the battalion.

As we are preparing to feed up to 350 soldiers we have to work a day in advance. To this end a second team of three chefs prepares all the ingredients and meats for the following day’s meals.

Heat, sweat and flies

When we first deployed to Lebanon we had to operate out of the mobile field unit kitchen. I can honestly admit this period was one of the most challenging six weeks of my catering and army career to date. The combination of intense heat, sweat and nuisance flies made the preparation and cooking of food most difficult. Since the opening of the new kitchen in Camp Shamrock it has been a pleasure to work in.

Come 1200hrs it’s doors open and the troops start arriving. I must say its great seeing the lads come through the doors each day and the banter is full on and it’s always nice to hear how much they appreciated what you cooked for them. Like any chef, you always like to hear how good what you just prepared and cooked was.

I have soldiered with many of the troops from the battalion back home in the Defence Forces, having started out my career as an infantry soldier before deciding to undertake the catering course in the catering school in McKee Barracks Dublin.

I do some more preparatory work for dinner before deciding to get out for a run at 1530hrs. It’s always great to get out and go for the run after been inside most of the day in the kitchen.

As I jog I cannot but wonder at the extreme beauty of this land. I offer a wave to whoever passes me by and I think of how most of these people have suffered through decades of civil war and occupation and I can only imagine the suffering they have gone through.

Calling home

In 2006, the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah tore through most of this area and you can still see evidence of this. But I also see the evidence of the resilience of these people. I jog by a newly built house, one of many along our three kilometre run outside the walls of Camp Shamrock, and I see the final touches been applied to the gate pillars. Admiration is the word which springs to mind.

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After my shower and it’s back to the kitchen to help in serving out the dinner.

After been up since 0430pm, as orderly cook I get to knock off early. So after dinner I go up to my room, put on my iPod and read my book. It’s always good to remove yourself from what is going on around while serving overseas. This is my fourth trip now, having previously served here in 2001, Liberia in 2005 and Kosovo in 2008. I have served as an Infantry Section second in command, a rifleman and a cook private in my previous trips.

I ring my fiancée Paula and my two boys, Jason (7) and Jamie (1). Even though I really miss them, they also know that overseas service is part of my job as first and foremost a professional soldier and second of all as a chef in the Defence Forces.

It is difficult at times but with the support each and everyone gives one another over here it helps immensely. I must say I go to bed happy knowing that everything is going OK at home – and I look forward to my 0600 lie in tomorrow!

Corporal Joe Agnew is a chef serving with 104 Infantry Battalion at Camp Shamrock in the south of Lebanon.

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Cpl Joe Agnew

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