TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
When award-winning chef Maynard Oestreich from Napa Valley, California, was offered the executive chef position with the 60th Force Support Squadron at Travis Air Force Base he knew he would bring more to the table than his 35 years of culinary experience. Oestreich served four years in the U.S. Navy in the early 1980s and has a great appreciation for the challenges facing military food service specialists.
It might be hard to understand why a successful chef from arguably one of the most competitive culinary regions of the world would choose to leave that behind to work on an Air Force base, but for Oestreich, it was a no-brainer.
“Originally I wasn’t looking for a job, but this made sense for me for where I am in my life,” said Oestreich. “When I was told that I would be directly impacting Airmen and mentoring them, I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
That’s exactly what Elvis Lindsey, Aramark-area general manager who hired Oestreich, was looking for in an executive chef.
“I wasn’t looking for a Gordon Ramsay type of chef who was going to get in your face and intimidate you,” said Lindsey. “One of the things I was looking for when I was hiring a chef was someone who not only went to culinary school and had a pallet, but also someone who could be a coach and mentor to our Airmen.”
Oestreich, a 1987 graduate of the Culinary Academy in San Francisco, has worked extensively in the Bay Area and Napa Valley since. He worked at the famed Silverado Country Club in Napa Valley where he won several culinary awards and cooked for many famous people, such as King Juan Carlos of Spain, Bob Dylan, Joe Montana and Arnold Palmer.
“I bring 35 years of experience to Travis where I’ve worked in the hotel and resort industry,” said Oestreich. “One of the things I want to instill in the cooks is if you care about what you do, the results will show in your food.”
Oestreich focuses on teaching Airmen attention to detail and finding the passion inside them. That is what separates great chefs from good chefs, he said.
“A recipe is a recipe; it’s the techniques, it’s the care, it’s the little extra things you do that aren’t in the recipe,” said Oestreich. “You can follow the recipe and make it the same every time or you can add a little bit of extra care, precision, focus and passion into the food and I guarantee you will taste the difference.”
Oestreich has made a huge impact at Travis since taking over the executive chef position, said Maj. Naomi Henigin, 60th FSS commander.
“Since he’s been settled in with us at the Sierra Inn Dining Facility and Delta Breeze Club doing the meals, I’ve heard nothing but great things,” said Henigin. “I heard from several base leaders that the latest Airman Leadership School graduation meal was the 'best ever.'"
The staff is benefiting from Oestreich’s presence as well. Tech. Sgt. Reginald Brown, 60th FSS production manager at the Sierra Inn Dining Facility, said his personality and consistency really stand out.
“Chef has come in and reinvigorated the staff, especially the younger staff who need a positive example with what can be done in this culinary field,” said Brown. “He’s great in the kitchen with creating menus from scratch and provides one-on-one sessions with our novice Airmen.”
One of the pleasant surprises for Oestreich since his arrival has been the positive attitude and the receptiveness of the cooks.
“The quality of young men and women still in the military is astonishing, the American armed services still attract some of the best young people,” said Oestreich. “The idea of molding brand new (technical) school graduates -- who don’t have big cooking egos because they are where they want to be, they want to learn and want to get better -- is exactly what I want to be doing at this time.”
Like any other profession, Oestreich acknowledges there’s some challenges that he and his team must overcome in order to deliver the best food possible.
“Some days are better than others, it’s always a work in progress,” said Oestreich. “Because of the nature of the military with people coming and going, it’s always going to be a challenge to communicate the desire to be a cohesive team.”
One upcoming hurdle his team must overcome is upgrading the dining facility, which is scheduled to begin in January 2018.
“When the Sierra Inn Dining Facility closes for some well-needed upgrades, we’ll be moving our operations over to the Delta Breeze Club,” said Oestreich. “This will undoubtedly create some challenges but I’m confident our team will overcome whatever they are.”
One thing is for certain: Oestreich is exactly where he wants to be and doing what he wants to be doing.
“There’s nothing right now in my life more satisfying than mentoring young people,” said Oestreich. “Travis has a great reputation throughout the Air Force as being one of the premiere dining facilities. People often come here to see how we do our processes, which is a great measure of the success we’ve had.”