Marco Werman: President Obama made an announcement today regarding the war in Afghanistan. He said US combat operations there will end at the end of this year and that all American troops will be out by the end of 2016. Matthew Gates came home from Afghanistan about 2 years ago. He served there with the Army's 10th Mountain Division. These days, he's attending cooking school. Gates says he's hoping to start a new career built around his connection to food.
Matthew Gates: I enjoy cooking. I enjoy making people happy through the food that I make. I would be younger, I'd be working in the kitchen at my mom's house with Thanksgiving. It was always there.
Werman: Is there anything about being in the kitchen that makes it a good place to be after serving in the military?
Gates: A lot of people liken it to being in the military. It's hard work. We all have to be in uniform. It was a nice transition, coming from a structured environment to another structured environment.
Werman: There are 150 vets in the program that you're in at the Culinary Institute of America right now. Is it evident in how they work with vets?
Gates: Yes, very much so. We have our own stars and stripes event around the 4th of July. They do support us in almost every aspect of our transition here, in our education. The school was started to teach returning vets a vocation. It's always been here.
Werman: Knife skills - very important for any chef and most chefs have their own knives for chopping and prep work. Describe your set of knives.
Gates: Every student, when they come here, get a set of knives. You have your 8-inch chef's knife, you have your slicing knife, your boning knife, your fillet knife. These knives are all identical, so in order to denote which knives are yours, students will engrave their names, initials or what have you. I had some ACU duct tape sitting around from when I was in the Army and I decided to wrap my knives in the camouflage-covered tape.
Werman: Camouflage duct tape?
Gates: Yes. I'm proud of my service and I'm honored to be able to represent my time in the military to a different audience. It's really something that I take to heart. I use them everyday, I look at them everyday.
Werman: You were in Afghanistan, so you're using the desert camo for your knives, right?
Gates: Well, the ACU camo, so it's more of the greys, the darker olive drab greens - that's the ACU color.
Werman: What do you like to cook?
Gates: I love to cook everything. I'm constantly making a lot of stuff, a lot of different items. I just love cooking. I guess there's really nothing that I don't like to cook.
Werman: Let me offer you a challenge, Matthew. I know that MREs continue to be both loved and despised, depending on your own situation and how hungry you are. How would you go about making the average MRE better?
Gates: Here's a little trade secret: there were combinations of things you could make; all the components might be in separate MREs, depending on what you get, so you get like a Gatorade powdered drink mix, you get your standard crackers that are hard, and you get sugar, powdered creamer - you mix them all together. You take your cheese - like the cheese wiz from the can - well, it comes in a little brown packet and you mix it all together. You mash up the crackers and you mix it all together. I swear to God, it tastes like cheesecake. It's not the freshest cheesecake in the world and it's no where near cheesecake but it tastes exactly like it. I'll tell you, if you've been out on a mission for a long time and you want something sweet, something quick, it's pretty awesome.
Werman: Matthew Gates, a US Army veteran who hopes soon to become a chef. Just be careful with anything on his menu that's called "cheesecake." Matthew, good to speak with you, thanks a lot.
Gates: Thank you very much for having me on.