U.S. Naval Forces Japan Dessert Challenge results

U.S. Navy photo by Tetsuya Morita
U.S. Navy photo by Tetsuya Morita

U.S. Naval Forces Japan Dessert Challenge results

by Chief Petty Officer Elizabeth Reisen
Commander, Naval Forces Japan

YOKOSUKA, Japan (April 19, 2021) — Challenged with partnering classic U.S. desserts with Japanese produce, 30 Navy SOFA members on five military installations within Japan participated in the inaugural Oishii Baking Competition April 2 - 16 aimed at showing appreciation to local governments.

The idea was based on a 2009 presentation of a New York-style cheesecake recipe from Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka to the city of Yokosuka as part of a cultural gift exchange. The cheesecake recipe used cherries to symbolize the sakura cherry blossom trees that are popular for many who live throughout Japan.

“The warmth and hospitality of Japan is why so many servicemen and women and the families keep asking to serve in Japan,” said Rear Adm. Brian P. Fort, Commander, U.S. Navy Forces Japan, who challenged installations to find a way to thank their local communities.

U.S. Navy installations in Misawa, Yokosuka, Atsugi, Sasebo, and Okinawa held bake-off competitions to find unique recipes that successfully combined stateside recipes cherished by those stationed here with Japanese flavors found in the local area. Contestants, which included military, civilian government workers, contractors, and their family members, were encouraged to share personal ties to the recipe they chose and Japanese ingredients they used.

“My husband and I feel grateful to be living in such a beautiful and welcoming community,” said Jennifer Fenner, whose “Mikan Cream Tart” was the winning dessert for Sasebo. “People have been patient and kind as we acclimated to a new culture.

“Fruits are so flavorful in Japan, especially the mikan,” said Fenner. “One can sense the skill and care that goes into growing fruit. I wanted to combine the flavor of mikan with vanilla and cream, reminiscent of an American ice cream treat called a "Creamsicle."

Osihii is Japanese for “delicious” and participants stretched themselves to come up with something tasty and visually stunning. The winning desserts included a mikan cream tart, peach cobbler cupcake, 4th of July shortcake with lemon curd and strawberry, apple grape crisp, browned butter sweet potato hand pie, caramel apple cookie, and a dango-inspired cheesecake.

Cooking with local ingredients presented a challenge that Yokosuka baker Janice Bennett embraced from the beginning. Her sweet potato hand pie used local sweet potatoes.

“My inspiration for it (the dessert) was learning how to actually cook Japanese sweet potatoes because it is very different from American sweet potatoes,” said Bennett. “I learned here we have to bake them and the longer we roast them … (the) more buttery they are. Definitely sweeter. The baking it in a Japanese kitchen was also a challenge for me.”

Participants drew inspiration from a range of sources. Stephie Kreutz was inspired by Okinawa’s variety of local ingredients and her cheesecake highlighted Okinawa brown sugar, local shikuwasa honey, shikuwasa juice and pink salt. Rochelle Cornell, who created a dessert with her daughter, was inspired by Yamoto’s fresh grapes and kinako powder for her apple-grape crisp.

Coming up with a unique dessert to celebrate the Japan and U.S. alliance also motivated the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo to create something special. Their Tokyo plum sake and white chocolate mousse cake was inspired by the ume, a Japanese green plum which pink flowers usually bloom before the cherry blossoms.

The baking challenge received warm support from some Japanese government officials and military members.

Upon hearing of the competition, the city of Sasebo gave the base two boxes of its famous mikans, a celebrated local fruit, to help inspire contestants.

At each of the presentations, a minimum of two Japanese judges were invited to be taste-testers.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Chief Culinary Specialist Hiroyuki Ogata, a judge for the Yokosuka competition and sailor assigned to JMSDF ice breaker JS Shirase (AGB 5003), presented the base with an ice block they brought from Antarctica as an appreciation for inclusion in the selection of what will be gifted to the city.

“The event was heartfelt because their stories had their own individual stories behind them,” said Ogata. “Of course everything was delicious, not so sweet, and many Japanese would think the way as I do.”

Each recipe will be formally presented by base commanders at each of the five Navy installations to Japanese government officials at their local community at a time when scheduling and health conditions allow.

Photo Caption:
YOKOSUKA, Japan (April 12, 2021) — Five contestants pose in front of their desserts prior to Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka’s (CFAY) Dessert Bake-off held at Kosano Park. Rear Adm. Brian Fort, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan/Commander, Navy Region Japan challenged Navy installations across Japan to create an American dessert inspired by Japanese ingredients. The event was designed to highlight the continued relationship between the U.S. and Japan, and as a way to say thank you for Japan’s continued kindness and hospitality for the Navy communities across the country. For 75 years, CFAY has provided, maintained, and operated base facilities and services in support of the U.S. 7th fleet's forward-deployed naval forces, tenant commands, and thousands of military and civilian personnel and their families.

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