One lucky duck
Journalism graduate’s interest in food led him to top spot in one of Athens’ most popular restaurants
Knowing how to butcher a duck might not seem like that helpful of a task, but it got Peter Dale (ABJ ’99) to where he is today. He can thank his father, who is a poultry science professor at UGA.
“I was really familiar with chickens and could butcher one no problem. And ducks and chickens essentially are all birds, so the first job I got I just nailed it,” Dale recalls. “That gave me some credibility even though I knew nothing about anything else.”
Dale began his career in politics, working for then-U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, who is now Georgia’s governor.
“Every culture in the world is represented in D.C. with the restaurants there, so I ate really interesting food from all over. But after a year and a half I got burned out on politics,” Dale says.
He then came back to Athens to pursue higher education administration and worked as a recruiter and fundraiser for the UGA Honors Program. He enjoyed recruiting, which was similar to what he did as a student employee at the UGA Visitor’s Center, but he hated the fundraising aspect of his job.
“After about a year I felt as if there was this creative energy that I had that wasn’t being tapped at all,” Dale says. “I was just getting restless and I needed to do something creative.”
He left the university to travel in South America for a few months and came back with cooking on his mind. A cold call to Hugh Acheson, owner of the Athens restaurant Five and Ten, landed him an unpaid job in the kitchen shadowing the chefs.
The first job he was given was butchering a duck.
“I just got really lucky that I knew how to butcher a bird,” Dale says. “A lot of it is sheer luck and timing.”
He worked his way up the ranks and when Acheson opened The National in 2007, Dale was the perfect fit as head chef.
“A big part of what I’m doing is ordering and planning the menu—not only for that day, but also later in the week and even further out like planning special events a couple of months in advance,” Dale says.
He is a strong advocate for local food.
“Our dishes are determined by what’s in season because we try to buy a lot of local produce,” he says. “Fundamentally it just tastes better.”
“The National serves food that is unusual or influenced by other cultures and Athens is receptive of that in large part because the university people are open-minded.”