Like his customers in military uniforms at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Chef Randy Mulder can’t disclose much about his recent, out-of-state mission in which he was pushed to his limits and made to swear not to talk about it.
The difference is that a television crew recorded Mulder’s every move earlier this year when he cooked on a tight deadline for Guy Fieri, the famously spiky-haired restaurateur and TV personality.
Until the episode of “Guy’s Grocery Games” airs on the Food Network at 8 p.m. this Sunday, all Mulder can say is that he made something that included black forest ham, creamed corn, quiche or pumpkin puree.
The combination of those key ingredients remains strictly classified.
What’s not a secret: Mulder’s television debut is a big deal for him and for JBLM’s campaign to spruce up a group of restaurants that cater to military families who want a dining experience without the hassle of leaving the installation.
“That’s one of the goals I had on the show, was to break the mold of what people think is Army food,” said Mulder, 25, of Lacey.
His appearance on the Food Network gives him a chance to show that Army meals don’t have to “come out of a scoop” in a cafeteria line.
The show pits four contestants against one another in a series of challenges. They have 30 minutes to gather ingredients for a recipe, cook it and plate it.
The premise sounds simple, except Fieri layers in extra difficulties. For instance, in the first episode, contestants had to cook spaghetti and meatballs in 30 minutes.
Anyone can do that, right? Except Fieri denied them ground beef and ready-made pasta.
Good luck with the flour and meat grinder.
“It’s definitely crunch time,” Mulder said. “Guy gets you out of your comfort zone. He gets right in your face.”
Mulder came to JBLM a little more than a year ago to run a restaurant called the Bistro at Russell Landing on American Lake.
At the time, it was considered an underperforming restaurant with an Italian-style menu that had grown stale, said Roger Disbrow, chief of business operations for JBLM’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs.
He and Mulder worked together to refashion it as a destination for specialty sandwiches year-round and slow dinners on long summer nights.
Now, the Bistro is busy again. Disbrow’s tapping Mulder for help with special projects, such as preparing the menu for a pub JBLM plans to open soon.
“Randy’s a really talented chef,” Disbrow said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen talent like his.”
Mulder knew he wanted to be a chef at a young age. He and his family members shared cooking duties growing up. He’d carefully plan his meals and look for quality ingredients on grocery trips with his mom.
He committed himself to a career in the business after dropping out of college after his freshman year. He realized he was “cooking in the dorms more than I was studying.”
Mulder then worked at restaurants and clubs in Arizona, most recently as a sous chef for a resort in Prescott.
He followed his older brother to the Northwest. Richard Mulder, a former Army captain, served his last four years at the base south of Tacoma. He separated from the Army after serving on a deployment to Afghanistan last year with a JBLM Stryker brigade.
Richard Mulder has since returned to Arizona, but Randy Mulder is sticking around . He has something to prove now that he runs his own kitchen.
Mulder has $20,000 in prize money on the line. He said he’d give half to the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project — if he wins, that is.