When he enlisted in the Navy right out of Priest River Lamanna High School, Dustin Butler had no idea he would be called upon one day to help stir things up for the Bush administration.
But two weeks ago the Blanchard, Idaho, 23-year-old received a letter, which read: “Congratulations, you have been selected for a position at the White House Mess.”
No, he’s not going to replace embattled presidential adviser Karl Rove. Given a choice, Butler would rather do just desserts.
“I like doing puff pastry, because it’s a long process and not a lot of people do it from scratch anymore,” Butler said, “so it impresses them.”
Not unlike politics, come to think of it.
This White House Mess is run by the Presidential Food Service, which “provides worldwide food service, security and personal support to the president and First Family,” according to the White House. The White House Mess operates executive dining rooms, offers gourmet meals and caters official functions for the White House complex.
Debra Dortch, a spokeswoman for the Navy Supply Systems Command, said Navy culinary specialists “operate the White House and Camp David messes for the president of the United States.” However, she could neither confirm nor deny Butler’s assignment. The Spokesman-Review gave up trying after repeated calls to the White House media office, the Pentagon’s public affairs office and the Navy’s office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
Butler said he will be doing everything from cooking the president’s food aboard Air Force One to shopping for groceries – undercover, of course.
“You can’t tell anyone where you are going or who you are shopping for,” he said.
Butler, a Navy culinary specialist 3, said he is very excited about his new billet, but he’ll have to wait at least six months to be vetted for “top secret” clearance. That shouldn’t be too difficult for federal agents, Butler said, since he has lived in North Idaho his entire life.
The president has his own chef who often calls down to the White House Mess for orders, Butler said. A lot of people – including senators – eat in the general galley of the White House Mess, where dinners can run as high as $75 a plate. But that should present no challenge to the Navy stateroom supervisor who has fed 3,000 people a day in the general galley of the carrier USS John C. Stennis.
After six months he was moved up to the commanding officer’s galley where he cooked for Navy brass for two years. The Stennis’ home port is in Bremerton, where Butler is now stationed. He comes home to Blanchard on weekends to visit his wife, Nicole, who lives with his parents, Judy and Pete Butler.
When Butler enlisted three years ago, according to his mother, the Navy asked him what he would like to do when he got out, and he said, “butcher.” So they put him in mess management, which came as somewhat of a surprise to her since he doesn’t much like to do the dishes.
“He really is good,” Judy Butler concedes. “He likes somebody else to clean up, though.”
She is especially fond of her son’s recipe for chicken cordon bleu, which adds onions and peppers.
Did she expect her boy, the middle of three sons, to end up at the White House?
“No, we live in Blanchard,” she said matter-of-factly.
Dad’s pretty proud, too, and has a copy of the letter – the one about joining the White House Mess – hanging up in his workshop.
While Butler is away, his wife will be finishing her studies at Eastern Washington University. White House duty for a culinary specialist typically lasts three years.
“With that on the resume you can pretty much pick your orders,” he has been told. He expects to retire after 20 years in the Navy.
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