THEBEPHATSHWA AIR BASE, Botswana - The stir-fry sizzled on the grill, filling the room with a fantastic aroma of warm beef, vegetables and spices, as Spc. Lenette Tidwell of Chicago, flipped the meat with a large metal spatula.
"You're my best friend for life!" she said excitedly to Botswana Defense Force Sgt. Gabobotswe Segosebe, a head chef with the BDF.
Tidwell, an administrative specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 405th Brigade Support Battalion, Illinois Army National Guard, was selected to participate in an opportunity to cook local African cuisine with the BDF chefs during Southern Accord 2012.
SA12 is a joint training exercise in which U.S. military forces come together with the BDF to enhance military capabilities and interoperability through humanitarian assistance, peacekeeping operations and aeromedical evacuation.
The cooks from the 405th BSB worked with the BDF for the last week and a half, providing warm meals to the 1,400 troops on the ground by way of military mobile kitchens. However, Tidwell was able to work with BDF chefs in their kitchen, cooking a recipe of beef stew and fried chicken with rice and maize meal.
Army Staff Sgt. Martin Fruchtl, mess section sergeant with HHD, 405th BSB, said the leadership chose Tidwell to give her an opportunity to hone her culinary skills as she is pursuing a certificate in culinary arts from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago, which she should complete in the spring of next year. Tidwell said she is also planning to transition to the mess section of the unit.
"When the sergeant told me I'd be over here working with the BDF and seeing how they cook, it made me very excited," she said.
Tidwell helped clean the kitchen, prepare ingredients for the soup and help fry the chicken. She said placing the chicken in the oil was her favorite part.
Tidwell said she learned how the BDF work well with only basic ingredients. She said she enjoys how light and healthy the food is. Tidwell also said she especially likes the type of seasoning they use and the white rice.
BDF Staff Sgt. Moses Ramatlhape, a chef with the BDF, said the goal of having Tidwell experience the food preparation was to exchange knowledge on equipment and to learn how the BDF prepare a meal.
Tidwell said she appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the way the BDF cook, and she learned a lot about the culture of the BDF soldiers. She said she will take back some of the skills the BDF chefs taught her including cutting techniques and some of the recipes.
"This was a good experience and a tasty one too," she said.