Story by MC2 Maddelin Angebrand
JTF Guantanamo Public Affairs
GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (Aug 12, 2011) - When Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class William Neimi and Aviation Maintaineceman 2nd Class Mark Scarpo arrived on Guantanamo Bay 11 months ago, they had two things in common – they both worked in the camps and both loved to cook.
United by their passion for food, Neimi and Scarpo started taking turns cooking for their group of friends each weekend.
“He’s cooked for a bunch of us, I’ve cooked for a bunch of us,” said Neimi, “And it kind of just went back and fourth - I’m a better cook, no, I’m a better cook!”
It’s been a year in the making, and finally two great Guantanamo Bay chefs face off in an epic showdown of flame-broiled, mouthwatering food extravagance. To each his own flavor, style and spice – there are no rules, just cook.
“You know that saying, ‘go big or go home?’” Neimi asks as he flips a piece of battered chicken over in a pan of bubbling peanut oil.
“Well, we decided to go big before we go home!”
With only a few weeks left on the island, the two friends decided to have one last barbeque - a “Throw Down, Showdown” - complete with every kind of meat the commissary had to offer.
“We went to the NEX and just started filling the cart,” said Scarpo, also known as Chef Scrappy. “We wanted this one to be huge.”
Jerk shrimp, BBQ steak kabobs, bacon wrapped tenderloin, meatloaf, vodka marinated chicken… the list goes on.
“This is a serious spread of food,” Neimi laughs as he moves from the stove-top chicken to the four fired-up grills outside. “There are two things I don’t mess around with - guns and food!”
With more than eight hours of preparation and four hundred dollars spent, Neimi is not kidding - he and Scrappy love to cook.
“I think I started at 13,” Neimi shares. “You know, helping Nana in the kitchen and what not. My Nana, my pops and my uncle can all take equal blame for the monster I have become in the kitchen!”
Scarpo, too, shares the passion, not just for cooking, but for bringing people together by way of food.
“If it wasn’t for these BBQs,” Scrappy says, pinching a kabob off of the grill, “I would have gone crazy months ago – this is what it’s all about.”
Both chefs say there are no secret ingredients except for cheese and bacon, which Neimi says makes everything taste better, and neither of them cook by recipe.
“I could never become a [professional] chef,” Neimi admits, tossing some steaks on the grill. “I am too passionate about food. Once it becomes a job, the passion becomes more of a burden and a necessity - a means of making money. I enjoy cooking way too much, I like to have fun with it.”
Yeoman 2nd Class Kevin Clute has known Neimi and Scarpo since the beginning of their deployment and says they tend to get carried away and need a little help at times. That’s where Clute comes in, aside from being their best customer.
“Sometimes the next thing just needs to be prepared so I get [it] going,” Clute explains as he smashes a bag of Saltine crackers for Neimi’s latest chicken marinade. “It’s just attention to detail and doing what they say, it’s not like I take the blame if anything gets messed up.”
Being a friend of Scarpo and Neimi comes with one requirement – an appetite.
“Everybody loves a full belly,” Clute mumbles, chewing on a whiskey-marinated chicken wing. “We all started out working in camps and to tell you the truth, on your two days off you just want to relax as much as you can and there’s no better way to do so than sitting around a table with some friends with some good food. It really helps you unwind.”
Neimi agrees his hobby is one of his favorite stress relievers and says there’s never a dull moment with food.
“There are so many different avenues and different recipes – in all honesty, the possibilities are endless,” he admits.
“There are always new flavors - some are delicious and some you never want to use again,” he adds, laughing. “Everybody needs to eat, right?”
Although both Neimi and Scarpo don’t plan on becoming professional chefs, they throw around the possibilities of continuing their legacy.
“My goal when I retire is to open a bar and grill,” Scarpo shares. “You never know, our paths could cross again. The Navy is so diverse we might not see each other for years then run into each other some 15 years down the road.”
They have yet to name their future restaurant, but Scrappy already answers his phone with “Scrappy’s BBQ, how can I help you?”