Floyd Lee is not your average Army cook. Forget what you’ve heard about fatty, bland food served to hapless soldiers after a grueling day in the field. Anyone who’s ever seen an episode of M.A.S.H. knows what I’m talking about. Just about every episode featured Hawkeye and the gang gagging on a helping of gruel.
So it really blows my mind to hear about Floyd Lee. He runs the Pegasus Mess Hall at Camp Liberty in Iraq, and he’s turned chow time into fine dining time. (That’s the Pegasus in the pic on the right, courtesy of www.defendamerica.gov.) It’s rumored that soldiers come from miles around to dine at the Pegasus. Lee, a retired military cook with a 25-year career serving Marines and other troops food, was asked to come out of retirement to run the Pegasus back in 2004 and he jumped at the chance to do his part for the effort.
I learned about Lee reading Chip Heath’s book Made to Stick. Heath was the keynote at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s conference this past April in New Orleans. He’s a compelling speaker and a great author and I recommend the book. Anyway, Heath mentioned the Pegasus Dining Hall in Made to Stick and I felt compelled to learn a bit more about Floyd Lee. I found a great article in U.S News and World Report that sums up why the Pegasus is such a hit.
"They are in danger over here," says Lee back in 2004. "But we’ve got to forget about it, at least for a little while. As I see it, I am not just in charge of food service; I am in charge of morale."
I’ve done some looking around online and I can’t even confirm if Lee is still over at the Pegasus. I’m sure the soldiers over there are glad if he still is.
The best thing about this whole story is that Lee gets exactly the same supplies and food as every other mess hall in Iraq. His meat and fruit is the same as everyone else. Yet, while soldiers gripe about the lack of variation and taste at most chow halls, they flock to the Pegasus for innovative meals and exotic desserts.
It’s all about attention to detail. That’s the only thing that makes the Pegasus different from other mess halls in Iraq. Lee has his staff cull fruit daily and only serves the best of the bunch to his diners. His Sunday prime rib is marinated for at least three days in his secret Louisiana-inspired marinade. And he even uses fancy names to entice his visitors. He puts out two pitchers of iced tea at each meal. One is "Carolina tea" and the other is "Georgia tea." He asks diners which they prefer, and they gladly tell him their favorite. What they don’t know is that they are exactly the same! The only difference is the name…
Floyd Lee is proof that perfection is a symptom of effort. Lee knows what needs to be done to deliver his troops quality food and he does it without thinking twice. I hope for the sake of the troops over there today that he’s still there!