It’s time to get to know the man behind The National, executive chef Peter Dale. As he competes for the title of Food & Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef through Sunday March 11, we want you to know exactly what makes Peter the most talented and innovative chef in America. Your journey to this point has been winding, when did you really know you wanted to be a chef? I had definitely thought about it for a long time, probably in high school and college, but never seriously. It wasn’t until years later when I was staring at a computer in my cubicle when I realized I had to do something different. What is your most vivid food memory? My first meal at Five & Ten, just after they opened. It was duck confit, grapes roasted on the stem and a star anise jus. It was a revelation that such thoughtful food could be served in Athens. What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your professional training as a chef? Getting the chance to experience the kitchen at La Broche in Madrid was life changing. It was more like a chemistry lab at UGA than any kitchen I’d ever seen. My biggest lessons have always come from mistakes. I tell the staff to not get bogged down when something doesn’t work. The most important lesson is to know why it didn’t work and how to make it better next time. What inspires your style of cooking? Travel. So many dishes at The National are inspired by wonderful food memories from my travels. Recently, I visited a close friend who is a chef in Seattle. We cooked beautiful dungeness crab and slurped down Olympia oysters. Don’t be surprised to see a nod to the Pacific Northwest in the near future. Why is sourcing local produce and sustainable seafood important? Local food simply tastes better. Vegetables are picked when they’re ripe and brought to the restaurant the same day, and over the years we have developed friendships with many of the farmers who supply us. I like knowing the supply chain involves just two people, the farmer and myself. Supporting other small business people and our local economy is really important to me. Our sustainable seafood program at The National is all about valuing the natural world around us. Oceans are the last frontier and it’s amazing how profound our impact on them has been; sometimes it’s hard to wrap your head around it because oceans are so vast. Choosing sustainable seafood is one of the easiest socially responsible actions you can take. Eat good seafood, we’ll help you make good choices. You’re also interested in the origin of food. What about the history of food intrigues you? I have always loved history and geography, social studies was always my best subject in school. Naturally I’m interested in where food comes from and why. The ingredients of a dish, or the way it’s prepared, is very often a fascinating history lesson. Gazpacho is a great example. We think of gazpacho as a cold tomato soup from southern Spain. As it turns out, gazpacho was being made well before the discovery of America (tomatoes are a new world plant). The original gazpacho was introduced by the Moors to southern Spain. It is white, made from ground almonds, garlic and bread crumbs. The use of nuts to thicken dishes is a classic Moorish idea and is still used in Spain today, hundreds of years after the reconquest. The building The National resides in has an interesting history. How did you find the space? The space found us. Brigitta Hangartner was renovating the building for Ciné, and it was her vision to have a restaurant in the front space. It was originally built as a Plymouth dealership and then became the recap plant for the Snow Tire Company. I love the bones of the building, especially the exposed beams visible inside Ciné (and in our attic). What experience do you want people to have at The National? I hope the dining experience is comfortable and comforting. Sometimes the menu will have dishes that challenge you to try something new, but old favorites will be there, too. My goal is to present flavors from areas of the Mediterranean lesser known to Athens diners. I’m especially interested in Spain, North Africa, Turkey and the Middle East. This inspiration, combined with local ingredients creates a cuisine that is unique to Athens at this specific time of year. How has The National grown and changed since it’s opening? We have definitely matured and become better cooks. I think we’re more confident, and willing to take more risks. At the same time, the years have provided us with classics and staples that our customers rely on. Our relationships with our purveyors, especially local farmers, are stronger than ever. They now ask us what we’d like them to grow. It’s really exciting to have an influence on what is served at the restaurant before seeds ever go into the ground. So what is your favorite dish ever served at The National? I could eat our chicken with okra, chickpeas, harissa and yogurt everyday. Okra is equally suited in Southern comfort food and exotic North African dishes. I love the interplay of yogurt and harissa, the yogurt cooling the harissa’s earthy heat. Vote for Chef Peter Dale March 5 through 11 at http://www.foodandwine.com/peoples-best-new-chef/southeast! in this photo…Peter Dale at his home office {photo by Emily Hall}

It’s time to get to know the man behind The National, executive chef Peter Dale. As he competes for the title of Food & Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef through Sunday March 11, we want you to know exactly what makes Peter the most talented and innovative chef in America.


Your journey to this point has been winding, when did you really know you wanted to be a chef?
I had definitely thought about it for a long time, probably in high school and college, but never seriously. It wasn’t until years later when I was staring at a computer in my cubicle when I realized I had to do something different.

What is your most vivid food memory?
My first meal at Five & Ten, just after they opened. It was duck confit, grapes roasted on the stem and a star anise jus. It was a revelation that such thoughtful food could be served in Athens.

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your professional training as a chef?
Getting the chance to experience the kitchen at La Broche in Madrid was life changing. It was more like a chemistry lab at UGA than any kitchen I’d ever seen. My biggest lessons have always come from mistakes. I tell the staff to not get bogged down when something doesn’t work. The most important lesson is to know why it didn’t work and how to make it better next time.

What inspires your style of cooking?
Travel. So many dishes at The National are inspired by wonderful food memories from my travels. Recently, I visited a close friend who is a chef in Seattle. We cooked beautiful dungeness crab and slurped down Olympia oysters. Don’t be surprised to see a nod to the Pacific Northwest in the near future.

Why is sourcing local produce and sustainable seafood important?
Local food simply tastes better. Vegetables are picked when they’re ripe and brought to the restaurant the same day, and over the years we have developed friendships with many of the farmers who supply us. I like knowing the supply chain involves just two people, the farmer and myself. Supporting other small business people and our local economy is really important to me.

Our sustainable seafood program at The National is all about valuing the natural world around us. Oceans are the last frontier and it’s amazing how profound our impact on them has been; sometimes it’s hard to wrap your head around it because oceans are so vast. Choosing sustainable seafood is one of the easiest socially responsible actions you can take. Eat good seafood, we’ll help you make good choices.

You’re also interested in the origin of food. What about the history of food intrigues you?
I have always loved history and geography, social studies was always my best subject in school. Naturally I’m interested in where food comes from and why. The ingredients of a dish, or the way it’s prepared, is very often a fascinating history lesson. Gazpacho is a great example. We think of gazpacho as a cold tomato soup from southern Spain. As it turns out, gazpacho was being made well before the discovery of America (tomatoes are a new world plant). The original gazpacho was introduced by the Moors to southern Spain. It is white, made from ground almonds, garlic and bread crumbs. The use of nuts to thicken dishes is a classic Moorish idea and is still used in Spain today, hundreds of years after the reconquest.

The building The National resides in has an interesting history. How did you find the space?
The space found us. Brigitta Hangartner was renovating the building for Ciné, and it was her vision to have a restaurant in the front space. It was originally built as a Plymouth dealership and then became the recap plant for the Snow Tire Company. I love the bones of the building, especially the exposed beams visible inside Ciné (and in our attic).

What experience do you want people to have at The National?
I hope the dining experience is comfortable and comforting. Sometimes the menu will have dishes that challenge you to try something new, but old favorites will be there, too.
My goal is to present flavors from areas of the Mediterranean lesser known to Athens diners. I’m especially interested in Spain, North Africa, Turkey and the Middle East. This inspiration, combined with local ingredients creates a cuisine that is unique to Athens at this specific time of year.

How has The National grown and changed since it’s opening?
We have definitely matured and become better cooks. I think we’re more confident, and willing to take more risks. At the same time, the years have provided us with classics and staples that our customers rely on. Our relationships with our purveyors, especially local farmers, are stronger than ever. They now ask us what we’d like them to grow. It’s really exciting to have an influence on what is served at the restaurant before seeds ever go into the ground.

So what is your favorite dish ever served at The National?
I could eat our chicken with okra, chickpeas, harissa and yogurt everyday. Okra is equally suited in Southern comfort food and exotic North African dishes. I love the interplay of yogurt and harissa, the yogurt cooling the harissa’s earthy heat.


Vote for Chef Peter Dale March 5 through 11 at http://www.foodandwine.com/peoples-best-new-chef/southeast!


in this photo…Peter Dale at his home office {photo by Emily Hall}