Palette chef bound for Iraq

From executive chef of one of Washington’s premier restaurants to squad leader of Army combat patrols in Iraq.

That’s the hard-to-believe transition that Arnel Esposo will be making after leaving his job at Palette, the stylish restaurant-cum-art gallery attached to the Madison Hotel, and joining a Maryland National Guard unit headed for Iraq next month.

The 40-year-old native of the Philippines took over two years ago at the highly rated restaurant, whose walls display contemporary art for sale, and marked his last day there yesterday. He will spend a few days with his Irish-born wife and year-and-a-half-old son before reporting to Fort Dix, N.J., next week. He and his unit will undergo several weeks of training before leaving for Iraq.

“I wish I could stay here, but you do what you have to do,” Esposo said Monday as he prepared to trade his chef’s attire for a sergeant’s uniform.

This is Esposo’s second trip to Iraq. He was there briefly while on active duty during the first Gulf War. “But it was pretty much over when I got there,” he said.

Esposo, who arrived at Palette as sous-chef when it opened four years ago, learned his trade working with Michel Richard at Citronelle and Morou Ouattara at Red Sage (now closed), and at a restaurant in Kildare, Ireland.
Esposo said he won’t be donning his chef’s toque in Iraq, where he’ll be leading his squad on combat missions and convoy escorts. But he added, “I might be doing some barbecuing for my squad.”