Virginia's own award winning chef cooks up recipe for the sweet tooth

By Spc. Stephanie Willer
GuardPost Staff Writer

If chicken soup can be good for the soul, then this pastry chef's famous sticky buns will warm the heart.
The chef is Virginia Guard soldier Sgt. 1st Class Danny E. Leslie, a food operations sergeant in Company A, 429th Forward Support Battalion, who loves to cook.

Leslie has been working his behind-the-scenes creative magic for over 26 years. Leslie, who originally wanted to be a forestry and game warden, was first introduced to baking and food preparation during a tour in Vietnam. "In the evening I worked in the bakery. That's where I really got started," said Leslie "When I returned from Vietnam (in 1969), I started working in bakeries, hotels and restaurants around Virginia."

After a 10-year absence from the military, Leslie enlisted with the Virginia National Guard in 1979. Leslie was the first food service sergeant for the 429th FORWARD SUPPORT BATTALION.
In 1994, Leslie left his unit and moved to Texas to take a civilian job, only to return to Virginia and reunite with his friends from the 429th three years later. "When I left in 1994, there were 12 cooks. When I came back in 1997, they were down to one cook," explained Leslie. "Over the last three years, they have brought their cook team back up to 10 cooks."

Since Leslie's return to the unit, the 429th FORWARD SUPPORT BATTALION has won at the state and regional level. In November the unit won at the national level the coveted Philip A. Connelly Award for Excellence in Army Food Service.

At the competition, they were acknowledged for their lasagna dinner that comes with a pineapple upside-down cake, all prepared in the field in a military field kitchen.

According to the army regulations that determine the Connelly competition, units can enter in four categories, three of which pertain to active army units. The three active army categories are: Small Dining Facilities (serving 200 or less), Large Dining Facilities (serving 201 or more), and Division Field Kitchens (field food service operations that are an organic element of, and provide food service to, a unit of an active army division in the field).

The fourth category, Reserve Component Field Kitchens, pertains to unit and organizations within the Army National Guard and Army Reserve. That's where Leslie and his team came into play.
As Leslie explained, there's more to the competition than just preparing a tasty dish. He pointed out that food operations sergeants need to make sure their units are meeting the military's field manual requirements for operations and procedures of food service as well as sanitation.

Leslie is a veteran of many food preparation courses he's taken over the years. This training has assisted him in reaching the level of expertise he demonstrates in his culinary creations.

In addition to cooking, Leslie also does ice sculpting, a skill he's been applying for 15 years. He explained each individual sculpture can take anywhere from three-to-four hours to complete. "The swan is one of my most requested sculptures," said Leslie, who also does catering for weddings and birthdays in addition to his full-time food service supervisor position with the Department of Corrections.

His efforts are never unappreciated. Leslie has been acknowledged on many occasions for his dedicated service to food preparation and his innovative approach to utilizing leftovers. For example, after Thanksgiving, when the only thing left untouched on the table is the infamous canned cranberry mold, Leslie will use the sauce and create his " Cranberry Crunch" desert. This is just one of many leftover ideas Leslie has used and shared with his fellow guard soldiers.