CAMP RIPPER, Iraq --
It’s not new for Marines to eat Asian foods on special nights at one of the dining facilities here, but never before has a Marine brought the world famous seaweed-wrapped Japanese delicacy to land-locked Iraq.
Sergeant Alejandro Castellano, the utilities maintenance chief for 1st Civil Engineering Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, prepares sushi, normally a coastal meal, for his Marines and any other Marines who enjoy the healthy, light meal.
“Not everybody is a fan of sushi,” the Fairfax, Va., native said. “But how surreal is that, being able to eat sushi in Iraq?”
Using a mixture of fresh vegetables from his local dining facility, and rice and seaweed sent from his residence, along with freshly-grilled salmon, this Marine reservist has taken his joy of cooking and proved that Marines can do anything with ingenuity.
“Cooking is an escape for me,” Castellano said. “It’s a passion and very therapeutic.”
On his third combat deployment, Castellano has learned to make friends with food service specialists who have allowed him to utilize their facility for cooking rice and preparing vegetables.
“Last deployment all I had was a water boiler and I used empty protein jars as strainers and mixers,” the Chilean born Marine said.
His favorite dish last deployment was pasta with pesto sauce. This deployment he has been able to grill flank steaks on top of pesto mashed potatoes and garnished with grilled vegetables. Now, he’s moved onto the art of sushi.
“This was my first time eating sushi and it was really good,” said Lance Cpl. Johnnie Barber, a food service specialist with RCT-8. “I never thought I’d eat sushi in Iraq.”
Using his own money, Castellano has bought all of his ingredients.
“I don’t mind spending the money on my Marines,” Castellano said. “It’s a morale booster for them.”
Not only does it brighten the moods of his Marines, the sushi chef is able to focus his mind elsewhere, for the short time it takes his skilled hands to quickly chop and dice the vegetables, to a place where cooking isn’t a task but a pleasure.
“I get away from all of the hustle and bustle of work,” the skilled cook said. “It makes me feel like I’m not here.”
Cooking since the age of nine, Castellano has learned many recipes throughout his life.
“My family is from Italian ancestry, so we spend a lot of time in the kitchen,” Castellano added.
Castellano only had enough salmon for half of the sushi he needed to feed his Marines, so he used a carrot and pineapple salad from the dining facility to create a new type of sushi.
“Now I make up my own recipes or tweak previous ones to what I have available,” he said.
As if proving his years of experience in a kitchen, Castellano was finished without pause, moving step-by-step through the sushi preparation process. Once finished and cleaned up, he left to refrigerate his sushi wraps, hoping to surprise his Marines the next day with something new and foreign to some but a taste of home to others.
For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.mnfwest.usmc.mil.