Decades-old Hennessy Awards on chopping block

Budget cuts threaten military foodservice awards program.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

A 57-year-old tradition of celebrating the best foodservice programs in the U.S. Air Force was suddenly canceled by Air Force last weekend. But advocates of the program are planning to meet next week to try to salvage what they can.

Dick Hynes, director of consultant services, Healthcare & Military, for Hobart Corp., said that the Military Hospitality Subcommittee was going to be meeting in San Antonio next week.

“We will be working to see what we might be able to do for 2013 to honor foodservice even if we can’t run the full program this year, as well as to see how to take the program forward in 2014 and beyond,” said Hynes.

The announcement came quietly to program organizers less than two weeks before Hennessy travelers were set to embark on their nearly month-long tour of finalists in several categories. The Hennessy travelers include members from the Society for Foodservice Management, the National Restaurant Association and the International Food Service Executives Association.

SFM’s traveler for this year was to be Tony Kaszuba, president of Restaurant Marketing Associates. He was set to begin his visits Jan. 27. According to a communication from SFM to its members, the Air Force had attributed the cancellation of the program “to significant budget reductions and the looming sequestration.”

As a writer who in 28 years of covering this industry has had the opportunity to visit several Hennessy Award-winning bases, it is sad to think that this valuable program might be ending. It may be a cliché, but the young men and women who work in these kitchens and cafeterias are unsung heroes—not just in the Air Force but in every branch of military service. They might not fight but they contribute to the ability of their colleagues to fight, and they take every bit as much pride in their work as pilots, navigators, mechanics and other support services on the ground.

It also makes me wonder what the future might be for similar programs. Every service has its own version of the Hennessy: The Connelly Awards for the Army, the New Awards for the Navy and the Hill Awards for the Marine Corps. Is the Hennessy decision just the first step in a process that will end the practice of saluting military cooks who have worked so hard to sponge away the image of kitchen duty as punishment?

I once interviewed an Air Force sergeant who, in 1985, had won an IFMA Silver Plate Award. Antonio Bavuso has enlisted in the Air Force as a way of avoiding jail time for his part in the theft of a car. When he was assigned to foodservice, he told me, his heart sank. He had the image of Beetle Bailey in his head and thought he had been delivered to Hell. It turned out to be a gift, and he earned the applause of his peers.

Programs like the Hennessy Awards help bring people like Tony Bavuso to light. I would hate to think that the industry may lose this opportunity. Time will tell.