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Navy Chef Gets Creative With A $10 Skate Meal

For NPR's "How Low Can You Go" family supper challenge, some of the nation's best cooks have each agreed to come up with a budget-conscious, delicious meal for a family of four. The hitch? The meal must cost less than $10 — and the cheaper the better.

Navy chef Michael Edwards, who has won the title Armed Forces Chef of the Year, cooked a sauteed skate meuniere with potato gnocchi and cream of asparagus soup for his meal.

Edwards, a culinary specialist first class, says skate is "the most tender, succulent fish there is."

"We used it in meals, and people are just blown away by it," Edwards says.

Edwards says he spent $9.75 on his meal.

An enlisted aide to Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Edwards not only cooks for the admiral, but also for the dignitaries who visit with him.

Edwards joined the Navy shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, because a recruiter told him the food in the Navy was better than Army food. Before that, he ran a vegetarian catering company.

Fine dining is now Edwards' specialty, but his military career didn't start with amuse-bouche or vichyssoise. He cooked for thousands of sailors aboard the aircraft carrier the USS John C. Stennis. Edwards says the cooks use massive steam kettles — also called large coppers.

"You have a row of them, so that the person who's good at that has a metal paddle, and they call them the copper king," Edwards says. "They just put out enormous food four times a day. ... I never made it to copper king; I was a copper king apprentice. It's very impressive how much food they put out and what they're capable of doing."

"Creativity lies in making outstanding food with very simple ingredients," Edwards says.

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