At Townsville's Lavarack Army Barracks, the catering platoons go through spuds the way combat platoons go through ammunition. Piled in the kitchens behind the base's Chauvel mess are five bulging 20-kg sacks, a day's supply of mash and chips for the 300 soldiers who eat here. They're all very active, says Warrant Officer John "Benny" Benstead, the head chef, "So their metabolism is cranking over a fair bit." As a dietitian might say, they know how to put it away. And it's the mission of Benstead and his white-clad cuisine team to put it in front of them. For today's lunch, the "livin' innies"as he calls the resident troops who use the messwill hoe into offerings like beef stroganoff, BBQ pork chops, chicken à la king, Swiss roll and pavlova. Steak's "an old favorite," and there's a potato option at every meal. But the modern soldier is at ease with terms like parmigiana, and unfazed in the face of quiche. He's not slow to criticize, either: "You are only as good as your last meal," says Benstead. "If a meal was substandard, you hear about it. And you hear about it fairly heavily." An Army cookand Benstead's been one for 22 yearsmust not only take the critical heat but get out of the kitchen. "We are soldiers first," he says. So between meals, it's off for an 8-km march with full pack, or training sessions in navigation and weapons handling: "It's quite demanding, making sure everyone gets fed as well as doing our soldierly job." Deciding what to cook isn't just a matter of walking through the markets and seeing what inspires. Food must be ordered a week in advance through the Army supply system, and menus must conform to the Basis of Issue, the per-meal allowance for each soldier of meat, eggs, cheese, fish, sugarall calculated to the gram, with nutrition as well as economy in mind. On deployments and exercises, troops are served from trucked-in field kitchens, or carry "high-quality meals" in self-heating combat ration packs. "There's no chance of a soldier going hungry in the field," says Benstead, who'd clearly regard that as a personal defeat. "A happy soldier is a well-fed soldier," he says. "I always push into my chefs that we are the morale of the unit." More morale, at times, than some can handle: "Often after an exercise people say, 'What have you done to me? I should lose weight in the field, and I've put it on.' I say, 'Well, you're eating too much.'" He chuckles, as if that's not at all a bad thing.