Photo by Sathishkumar KannanThomas Shipp
Thomas Shipp was tired of the food in the military cafeteria.
“Some things just get repetitive,” he said, “so I took the condiments they have and created my own meal from pre-cooked food.”
One example was honey-glazed chicken strips.
Shipp took small packs of honey and soy sauce, plus a lemon wedge, and made a glaze for the chicken.
And his recipe creations just grew and grew – “bringing the taste of home to the cafeteria,” he said.
The Byhalia native recently released a 92-page cookbook with 80 different recipes. It’s titled “Cafeteria Cuisine, The Guide to Eating Pre-Cooked Meals.” It’s available on Amazon.
“Sales are going pretty well,” he said. “I’m getting a lot of support. I have some orders to send out now.”
The son of Nonnie Shipp, he graduated from Byhalia High School in 1998. He already knew what he was going to do after graduation.
“I committed to the Army in the 11th grade,” he said.
He enlisted in July after his senior year.
“I wanted to have a little fun that summer,” Shipp said.
He has been stationed in Savannah, Ga., twice, and in Germany, Korea and Kuwait. He is now stationed at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg. He has been deployed to Iraq twice, plus Afghanistan, Poland and Egypt. Chief Warrant Officer Shipp will have served 20 years this July. He has worked as a water purification specialist and is now a petroleum system technician.
During Shipp’s 12 years as an enlisted solider, he received many achievements including Meritorious Service Medal (twice), Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal (seven times).
When he started adding to the cafeteria food, fellow soldiers were surprised it was so tasty.
“I would dress up my plate and they would say, ‘where did you get that meal from?’ I told them I made it myself and then I would let them taste it and show them how to do it.”
He said cafeteria personnel were equally excited.
“They always get complaints about the food,” Shipp said. “They were excited to see people being creative with the meals.”
He started taking photos of his food creations and putting them on Instagram and then that led to the book.
There was a Chili’s on post and a co-worker asked him to go to the restaurant and eat.
“I didn’t want to go,” Shipp said. “I knew I could make it all here (at the cafeteria). But I went to Chili’s.
“I showed her the photos and she said I should write a cookbook. I was skeptical at first but then I started documenting what I was doing.”
He tries some of his concoctions on his two daughters, Maleah, 4, and Meilani, 2.
“I do a lot of cooking at home for me and the girls,” he said.
One recipe idea is to take a cafeteria apple, peel it and cut it up, and add butter, cinnamon and sugar and, via the microwave, make an apple pie.
Shipp does a lot of food pairings, soup with a sandwich, and fast food with main course items.
“Some are just creations,” he said. “On Taco Tuesdays in the military, I would get guacamole and pico and put it on a burger with bacon.
“It’s good food – a lot of mixing and matching. Add some pepper and some hot sauce. You have to open up your imagination when you go into whatever cafeteria you frequently visit.”
Shipp visits his hometown of Byhalia regularly to visit his mother.
He is looking forward to retiring in maybe two years. He plans to return to Byhalia and build a house on seven acres he owns.
And he hopes to spend a lot of time on hobbies – like cooking, of course, plus photography.
“I don’t think those will make me rich or anything, but I wish they would,” said Shipp, with a laugh.