If you were having a few chefs spend the weekend as your guest, how would you host them?

You'd likely show them some Utah sights and provide some cooking-related entertainment. And you'd want to provide some great food that would appeal to their discriminating palates.

That's what some local chefs will do next month but on a larger scale. About 500 chefs from around the Western United States will be in Salt Lake City April 19-21 for the American Culinary Federation's Western Regional Conference. The last time the ACF came to Utah was in 1983, for its national convention.

As the host, the Beehive Chefs Chapter has spent months planning events and activities. Now it's crunch time as they nail down the details to make it a fun, interesting and educational time for their peers.

The highlight is a Freedom Chef Challenge Cook-Off, where top chefs from all six branches of the military — the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard — compete against each other at the Salt Palace.

This is the first time that every branch of the military has been represented in one major cook-off, said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Talcott, event co-chairman.

The two-person teams have honed their skills in the kitchens of mess halls, officers' clubs, naval ships and active theaters of war around the world, Talcott said. Armed with spatulas and skillets, these "grill sergeants" will engage in culinary-style hand-to-hand combat to see who can produce the best-tasting, most creative dishes within two hours.

"These guys represent the top dogs in each of their respective services," Talcott said. "Many of them started out as line cooks, feeding anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 troops at a time. They have worked their way up through basic food service and culinary arts courses. Most of them now work for four-star generals. One works for the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and secretary of Homeland Security."

Talcott knows what he's talking about, as he's the Utah National Guard foods director. He has also served in Iraq and was a Pentagon chef to former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen.

"Jason contacted the individual branches of the armed forces and requested that their best come and participate," said David Prows, the conference chairman. "As you can imagine, the response was huge."

Prows said the cook-off pays tribute to military chefs. "We are all in the business of feeding people, and military chefs perform a critical function by feeding those who defend our freedoms."

The cook-off is closed to the public, but Prows and Talcott hope to attract local and national media coverage.

Also scheduled are a trade show, cooking demonstrations and seminars with titles such as "Beauty and the Beef" and "Lobster Tales" to help the chefs grow in their profession. They may grow a little in the waistline, too, with a dinner party at Squatter's, a brunch at the Devereaux Mansion (following a Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast) and a banquet at the Salt Lake Country Club.

The chefs will also have opportunities to dine on their own. Even with the downtown construction hampering things, I think the out-of-town chefs will find that Salt Lake City's dining scene has improved in quality and diversity since the ACF's last visit 25 years ago.

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