Hungry like the Wolf: Renowned Tahoe chef pens book on history of Wolfdale’s restaurant, life in kitchens
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Visit wolfdales.com to order a copy of “Wolfdale’s Cuisine Unique” and to learn more about Wolfdale’s restaurant in Tahoe City.
There’s a question Douglas Dale, chef and owner of Wolfdale’s Cuisine Unique in Tahoe City, gets asked all the time.
“Everybody’s always asking us, ‘where did the name Wolfdale’s come from?’” Chef Dale, nestled in his office on the top floor of his restaurant, said Monday.
The answer is simple. Back in 1978, Dale opened the original Wolfdale’s in Homewood, which hugs the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, with his brother-in-law Jerry Wolf. The two merely pushed their last names together — Wolf and Dale — to create Wolfdale’s.
But, each time Dale explained the name of his longstanding restaurant, which he moved to Tahoe City in 1986 (at 640 North Lake Blvd.) he often ended up delving deeper. Expounding on the name Wolfdale’s, he found, became an entry point to peeling back the layered history of not only his restaurant of nearly four decades, but also his life as a chef — from his college days studying in Japan to apprenticing under celebrity chef Hiroshi Hayashi in Boston.
Through time, it became as clear as the Tahoe waters to Dale: He had the right ingredients to write a book.
“That’s how the memoir thing kind of started, really — just explaining the name,” Dale said. “Every chef wants to write a book — they always threaten to — but rarely do they get their act together to do it.”
Consider Dale in the minority.
The renowned chef recently self-published his first book, “Wolfdale’s Cuisine Unique” — a product of four years worth of writing and recipe compiling, with a dash of traveling, and a heaping of page layout by his daughter, Christine.
The 220-page autobiography “in which Dale shares stories of culinary passion and creativity” is peppered with more than 70 of his signature recipes, and complemented by eye-popping photos that provide a visual timeline of his life in the kitchen.
‘A blend of East and West’
“It’s a cookbook, but then it also goes heavily into memoir,” said Dale, who begins each chapter with a personal account from a different period of his life, followed by a handful of “greatest hits” recipes across starters, soups and salads, entrees, sauces, basics, desserts and spirits.
“We went back to the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, and tried to pull ones (recipes) that were transitional in our menu,” said Dale, known for cutting edge cuisine steeped in Asian influences, stemming from his time living in Japan. “We had so many recipes we were like, ‘Oh my god, how do we pick 70 of these?’ Especially ones that show us to be more unique — because right on the (book) cover it says ‘cuisine unique,’ so we wanted to prove that a little bit, too. So we showed the influence and showed dishes that had an Asian flare, a blend of East and West.”
Truth is, when Dale, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., dropped his anchor at Tahoe 40 years ago, the restaurants dotting the Tahoe shores served primarily conventional American food.
Dale — fresh off of his apprenticeship in Boston under the aforementioned Chef Hayashi, who cooked for everyone from John Lennon and Yoko Ono to the Kennedy family — wanted to mix things up.
“When I got here it was burgers and pizza, and that was about it,” Dale said. “Back in the ’70s and ’80s, nobody was doing Sashimi or Tempura or Miso Soup or any of the Japanese things that I was carrying along with me and doing here.”
Naturally, some of the locals were initially resistant to Dale’s unconventional techniques and flavor combinations.
“There were plenty of old-timers that were like, ‘What in the hell is this?’ You didn’t cook the fish? It’s raw? What are you doing?’” Dale said. “So it took time for the next generation to come up with a little bit more wide-open palate; that was part of our maturation.”
becoming a hot spot
It wasn’t long, however, before the locals, vacations and second homeowners warmed up to Wolfdale’s creative tastes, and the restaurant became arguably the premiere spot to dine in North Tahoe.
In fact, Wolfdale’s has had its share of celebrity regulars, including the late “Star Trek” actor Leonard Nimoy and the late, legendary comedian/actor Robin Williams.
Prior to Nimoy’s passing, he and his wife even provided a blurb for Dale’s book:
“Wolfdale’s! Always an event to look forward to. Elegant, welcoming atmosphere, delicious food creatively presented and courteous service. So good.”
Dale said that Williams was on their list of people they wanted to write a blurb for the book. The iconic actor, however, passed away before the time came.
“He liked this place a lot,” Dale said. “It’s an extremely friendly place to come. We want it to feel extremely friendly and social; I think that’s part of our calling card, as well.”
Indeed, Dale’s dedication to being a top-shelf chef and restaurant owner shines through in his new book, “Wolfdale’s Cuisine Unique.”
Dale said he hopes readers will get a taste of what it takes to run a restaurant and appreciate the history and longevity of Wolfdale’s.
“Not a lot of restaurants last almost 40 years,” he said. “I bet you can count on two hands — nation-wide even — that have had their own restaurant for that long. And my body still feels good. A couple cuts and burns, other than that, I’m OK.”
Visit wolfdales.com or call 530-583-5700 to learn more about the restaurant.