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Marine brings southern-style cooking to the Middle East

22 Sep 2006 | Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis

Cpl. Melvin D. Carson Jr., isn’t one of those fancy television cooks. He’s just your regular Marine food service specialist, with a little kick.

Carson uses his childhood cooking experiences to spice up food he serves to Marines in the field food facility here.

“I like coming up with different ways to make food taste better,” said Carson, a 26-year-old from Virginia Beach, Va. “Plus I like the satisfaction that Marines get from the food.”

Carson is assigned to Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment under Regimental Combat Team 5.

He has been kicking food up a notch ever since his deployment last year to Iraq. He said he didn’t get the idea from professional chefs, however.  He garners his inspiration from his parents.

“The pros are alright but nothing compares to Mom and Pops,” Carson said. “They’ve been cooking longer than any of those talk shows guys.”

He said both of his parents grew up without a mom or dad.

“Their brother and sisters raised them, so that forced them to cook and get better as the years went by,” Carson said.

From the time he was old enough to remember, his parents’ cooking was mouthwatering. He was intrigued by their culinary art. He had to get their recipes.

“There was this one dish that I had to absolutely find out how she made it,” Carson explained.  “It was fried chicken.  I bugged her and bugged her until one day she taught me how to make it.”

He didn’t stop there. Carson had a hunger for more. He wanted to know how his dad made a flavorful dish named after the family.

“My dad makes ‘Carson Burgers,’” Carson said. “The burgers are so big that you have to hold your breath to inhale it all.”

It’s his father’s influence that’s pushing Carson to put his heart and soul into his duties.  The dishes he serves up for his Marines are the best he can offer, a lesson his father impressed upon him as a child.

“He keeps me going,” Carson said. “Just to keep cooking and stay motivated.

Carson’s dad is a retired Marine. He said his dad’s longevity encourages him daily to strive for greatness.

“I want to show him that his boy is staying strong,” he said.

Carson has never had any sort of formal culinary training, other than his initial schooling in the Marine Corps.  Without instruction, Carson puts forth his best effort to give Marines the best food he can serve.

“I try to make the food as close to my mom’s southern cooking as possible if I can,” he said.

He’ll sometimes mix spices, seasoning other ingredients to get the effect of a home-style meal.

“I’ll do it to collard greens, steak and sometimes hash browns,” Carson said.

Carson thinks that’s important for Marines and sailors on deployment. Most of them won’t taste a home-cooked meal for several months.

“The food is good,” said Lance Cpl. Jairous E. Hardnett, a radio operator attached to Weapons Company.

The 21-year-old is from Atlanta, Ga., so he knows good southern food. He said Carson’s food brings him back to the states in a way.

“It’s as close to home as it’s going to get out here,” Hardnett said.

Hardnett and others are surprised that someone would put so much care into their food.

They constantly come up to him and others asking if they’re going to make specific dishes.

“You should have been here for the chicken parmesan,” said Cpl. Nicholas J. Lindsay, a 22-year-old mortarman from Paramus, N.J., who is also a squad leader with Weapons Platoon. “I wonder when they’re going to make it again.”

Carson doesn’t ask for much after he’s done serving hundreds of Marines.  Their smiles are enough.

“It feels good to know that after sweating in the kitchen making food that they appreciate your meals,” Carson said.