Bagram’s ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ finds sweet release in expeditionary confections

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Rau
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

He is the Dr. Frankenstein of expeditionary treat making, whipping up delicious concoctions out of care package candy bars and whatever else he can dig up. His laboratory is a tiny office, and his only tools are a little microwave and a mini fridge.

Yet, people don’t run terrified from his newest monster -- everyone wants a piece.

The story of deployed culinary experimentation began for Dan Johnson, the 455th Expeditionary Mission Support Group contract augmentation program manager, at Jalalabad Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2012. There, he had a coworker from Trinidad who specialized in making unique chocolate treats from whom he learned the tricks of the trade.

“All of what I do is in an expeditionary environment, and that surprises people,” Johnson said. “They think there is no way that I made this over here. But it’s all done in a microwave and a mini fridge in my office. It’s truly Dan’s Gourmet Expeditionary Chocolates.”

This hobby has been his creative outlet for four years in Afghanistan. He makes a batch every month or so to break up the monotony of deployed life, because as Johnson jokes, “It prolongs the inevitable descent into madness that results from writing government contracts every day.”

So where does Johnson find all the ingredients to complete the recipes he has designed? Care packages mailed from family and friends back home.

“People come to me all the time with things they get from their care packages,” Johnson explained. “I have had people bring me Twix and Twinkies, and so I came up with something out of that. Just the other day, someone brought in a bag of PayDays they got in the mail and asked if I could make something. I think I am going to mix it with a chocolate mousse; you can’t go wrong with that.”

While Victor Frankenstein only made a couple monsters, Johnson makes about 60 to 80 culinary confections per batch to distribute throughout the support group. After the batch is served to his adoring fans, he keeps one of each new specimen for himself. However, it is not to eat. Johnson carefully cuts apart the snack, takes photos of it, and transcribes meticulous notes of how it was made. All of this helps him pass on his knowledge to others who want to mimic his recipes.

Without an assistant, like Igor, to train, Johnson takes time out of his day to teach others how to make his concoctions. He has a passion teaching others to share in his experiences.

“I have always wanted to make candy but never had the opportunity to learn,” said Tech. Sgt. Felicia Smith, a 455th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron executive assistant. “When we first met, he was bringing in a batch of his newest treats and it cheered everyone up because it was so unexpected in a deployed environment. The reaction on people’s faces and the joy it brought them was incredible.

“I tried to make candy before and failed miserably. I was really discouraged,” she added. “It was after Mr. Johnson showed me how to do it, that I really knew what I was doing. There is an art to what he does, and he has inspired me.”

Like every good inventor, Johnson has a go-to “secret recipe” that people request all the time from him -- the Reeseo. While others across the world have made similar styles of this treat, his Air Force version is one of a kind. First, he takes two double stuffed Oreos and places them around a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup. Then, he uses a special chocolate to be melted over the entire treat. After that, he stamps the Air Force logo into the top. Finally, he finishes it off with powdered sugar to bring out the accent of the stamp. Over the course of his four years making delectable snacks, he has made upwards of 1,000 Reeseos.

Though Johnson has carved out a niche as a confectioner, he does not plan on taking his talents to the business realm.

“I love making these as a hobby, but I would probably come to hate it if I had to do it as a job,” he said. “I will probably keep doing this even after I leave Afghanistan, but it will just be for my family and friends.”

With all the success Johnson has had in creating culinary masterpieces from the bits and pieces of care packages, he has surely earned his place as an honorary mad scientist. And, with how good everyone says his expeditionary treats taste, he surely isn’t in any danger of being run out of town by an angry mob. In fact, it’s actually quite the opposite.