In The Athens Diet, we ask local luminaries to record everything they eat and drink for one week. For Peter Dale, head chef at The National, food is not only a lifestyle, but also a career. So what does a world-class chef eat when he’s not preparing the menu for others? Find out below.
It’s Memorial Day, and the restaurant is closed for lunch and only open for a wedding party tonight. After a busy weekend, this means I can start the day slowly. The old saying, “The cobbler’s children have no shoes” is a good way to describe my refrigerator. There is nothing to eat. Fortunately, I just got a Chemex coffee maker, so at least I can make a great cup of coffee. At the moment, I’m really enjoying African beans, and today I’m using Gitesi from Rwanda by 1000 Faces.
Two former employees have rented out the restaurant for their wedding party. We spend the day preparing for the party, eating bites of hummus and poached shrimp here and there. At some point in the late afternoon, I get a lamb slider to taste for seasoning. It’s delicious, and I wish I had more than one. The party turns out really lovely, and DJ Mahogany whips the crowd into a sweaty frenzy.
At about 11 p.m., I realize I haven’t eaten anything substantial all day. I gather a couple friends and head to The World Famous. This has been a go-to for late-night dining. I have the pork buns. As I eat them, they become a spicy and totally satisfying mess in my hands.
We are back to normal hours today after the holiday. I am training for the Tri to Beat Cancer triathlon in August. After exercising, I make a smoothie of banana, frozen blueberries, protein powder, a green super food powder, almond milk and coconut milk. It is cold and filling, and tastes very healthy.
An old friend is visiting from out of town. I like to show off the roof of the Georgia Theater to UGA alums who have been gone a while. We get lunch up there from The Branded Butcher. We share tacos—one pork, one tofu—and a cheeseburger. The weather and the food are perfect. A cold Terrapin completes the picture.
I don’t cook at home for myself very often, but occasionally I will invite people over for a special occasion. Tonight, I am cooking a graduation dinner for a friend who is finishing his Master’s. The menu includes roast beef (with lots of spicy Dijon mustard and sea salt, my favorite accompaniments for beef); roasted potatoes in goose fat (a friend brought the goose fat from England as a gift); a salad of radishes and endive; sliced tomatoes with local sweet onions; and watermelon and cherries for dessert.
More coffee and a smoothie for breakfast, and then I head into the restaurant. At 11 a.m., the pastry staff prepares a morning meal for the lunch staff. We call this “family meal,” and it’s a chance to gather everyone around to discuss the menu for the day. I can always count on an egg dish; today they’re scrambled with onions and cheese. We eat leftover carrot cake with cream cheese icing from the wedding on Monday and drink more coffee. I hope my trainer isn’t reading this.
At 4 p.m., we do another dinner, this time for the evening staff. It’s always a combination of leftovers and butchery scraps. Tonight’s menu includes a fish curry and a variety of salads. Most memorable is a slaw made from bok choy; it has plenty of vinegar and a bit of heat from chilies.
After work, I meet a friend at Normal Bar around 10:30. By this point, I’m starving. I love their boiled peanuts—it’s the perfect salty bar food.
I am starting to tire of healthy smoothies, so I grab eggs and an avocado from the Daily Co-op. I prepare coffee and two over-easy eggs topped with salsa and avocado. It’s delicious, and the high-quality eggs have beautiful deep orange yolks.
In the afternoon, I eat a power lunch at The National. This dish was created a couple years ago as a counterpoint to a cheeseburger we were also serving. I realized I couldn’t eat cheeseburgers every day, and that I was craving fresh vegetables. The dish is always vegetarian, includes a plant-based protein, generally has a cheese or yogurt component and, when available, we include at least one “super food.” Much to my surprise, it has become our most popular lunch item.
I eat a few bites of our evening family meal, some pork in a spicy sauce and a salad of local lettuces, radishes and marinated onions.
Fridays are always hectic and usually a blur. We are hosting a rehearsal dinner at Ciné, in addition to regular dining room service. My meals today consist of what the staff prepares for family meal, plus a few bites of other things here and there. I guess it’s ironic that I am surrounded by beautiful and healthy food, but some days I’m too busy to stop and enjoy it myself.
While I love creative and imaginative dishes, I am like anyone else in that I generally crave comfort foods. One of my grandmothers lived with us when I was a kid. She would cook for us when my parents would go out of town. My favorite meal consisted of beef cutlets dredged in an egg wash and crushed saltines. She would fry the cutlets and serve them with mountains of mashed potatoes. It was the simplest dish, but I can still taste it after all these years.
Saturday is a busy day at work. I eat a few bites of the morning and evening family meals, but never actually sit down to eat. Fortunately, the day starts out well with visits to a couple farmers markets. The Athens Farmers Market at Bishop Park is in full gear by the time I get there. I grab a coffee from 1000 Faces and a flaky croissant from The Comerian. I love visiting the market—there are always so many familiar faces. Over the years, we have gotten to know the farmers well; they have become our friends. I make plans with Tim Mills of Red Mule to get polenta and onions on Monday.
It is the first Saturday of the month, so the West Broad Market Garden, run by the Athens Land Trust, is also open this morning. I visit with some farmer friends and stop by the booth of our friend Greg, who is cooking delicious Italian food. His eggplant caponata and arancini (fried risotto balls filled with meat or cheese) are out of sight.
I am fortunate to live within walking distance of Heirloom Café. Having a place to eat just a few steps away is such a luxury, but it really shouldn’t be. I meet a friend for brunch and start with the Lowery Plate. It consists of pimento cheese, sliced green apple and buttery toasts that are golden brown (they must spend a minute or two on a griddle). Delicious. I finish with granola and yogurt and a beet and goat cheese salad. They add orange segments and rye bread croutons for a nice twist on a classic pairing.
Normally I don’t work on Sunday evenings, but tonight finds me in the kitchen. It’s not a terribly busy evening, so my dinner mostly consists of the results of recipe testing. I am working on a marinade for grilled pork kebabs. The first try is OK, but not what I’m looking for—too much saffron. But the pork itself is delicious: the best-tasting streaks of fat, grown by our friend Benji Anderson in Madison County. I head home to catch the repeat of “Game of Thrones.” I prop my feet up with a glass of red wine and officially end the week.
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