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Exchanging Military Life for Culinary Dreams

The transition from military veteran to successful chef may seem unlikely -- especially for someone who was once most comfortable in front of a computer screen.

But after retiring from the service, Phyllis Kendall decided to trade her Air Force cap a chef's white toque.

Twenty years in uniform taught Kendall many things, self-confidence and communications expertise among them. But she tells NPR's Ketzel Levine that a chance assignment running the kitchen of a coffee shop on a U.S. base in Turkey became a revelation for her, a place where she discovered her love of cooking for a crowd.

The experience led Kendall to take the pension she had earned in 20 years in the Air Force and study food and cooking at the Art Institute in Phoenix, Ariz., from which she graduated two months ago. She has recently left her first job in a professional kitchen to look for work in banquet catering. She says her main goal is to be a personal chef, with a hand-picked roster of clients.

Those plans are seemingly on the right track, as Kendall was voted "Culinarian of the Year" at her school. And her recipe for Roasted Vegetable and Chicken Soup took top honors in a recent Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt Recipe Contest. Feel free to try it at home:

Puree of Roasted Vegetable and Chicken Soup


2 bone-in chicken breasts

3 stalks celery, chopped

2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning

1/2 teaspoon white pepper, divided

2 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks

3 leeks, washed and coarsely chopped (white and light green parts only)

3 whole garlic cloves

1/2 tablespoon dried dill weed

Fresh dill, if desired


1. In Dutch oven, heat 7 cups water, chicken, celery, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, the rosemary, poultry seasoning and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper to boiling; simmer uncovered 30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in center. Remove chicken from broth; cool. Strain broth through cheesecloth and reserve 5 cups broth. Discard celery and herbs. Cut chicken into 1/2-inch pieces.

2. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray two 13x9-inch pans with nonstick spray. Place potatoes in one pan and leeks and garlic in other pan; spray all vegetables with nonstick spray. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon white pepper and the dill weed. Roast potatoes about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until vegetables are tender and beginning to brown. Roast leeks and garlic about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Set aside 6 potato pieces for garnish.

3. Place half the roasted vegetables in blender container with 1 cup reserved stock. Puree until almost smooth. Pour puree into Dutch oven. Repeat with remaining vegetables and 1 cup stock. Stir chicken and remaining reserved stock into pureed mixture. Heat over medium heat until hot. Ladle soup into bowls. Top with roasted potato chunk and fresh dill, if desired.

Makes 6 servings

Preparation and Serving Tips

Two pounds unpeeled red potatoes can be used instead of the baking potatoes. When blending, pulse the vegetables slightly to keep potato skin intact and to create chunkier soup.

Serve this soup like the trendy soup-and-bread shops. Hollow out a large, crusty roll with a serrated knife. Leave about 1/2 inch of bread shell. Ladle soup into bread bowl and serve with removed bread.

An immersion blender works great for pureeing the soup. Just place all the vegetables and 2 cups stock in the Dutch oven. Puree to desired consistency. Stir in remaining stock.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ketzel Levine
NPR Senior Correspondent Ketzel Levine reports for Morning Edition.