For forty years, Wolfdale’s has been delighting diners at Lake Tahoe with its unique style of East-West cuisine. While the influence of Japan is palpable, less obvious is the significance of Yellow Springs, Ohio.
The unique stoneware on which much of the food is served was handmade in Yellow Springs by Michael Jones, a former artist-in-residence at Antioch College. And the cuisine served upon the sublime pottery is the creation of one of his former students.
Douglas Dale ’76 grew up in Buffalo, New York where his father was a vaudeville entertainer at The Club Sheridan where Douglas was first exposed to the restaurant industry as a teenager. An article in National Geographic about the way accomplished artisans in Japan are honored as Mukei Bunkazai (National Living Treasures), led Dale to Antioch in part because of the Antioch Education Abroad (AEA) program. And also because, as Dale recalls, “On a visit to the campus both the Arts Department building and the student spirit was more impressive than any other school I had visited.”
Among Dale’s memorable Antioch experiences was a Co-op at KQED San Francisco with the Newsroom staff. “It was during the Zebra murders and the Patty Hearst kidnapping. It was an amazing time to be there.”
Encouraged by his ceramic instructors, Dale embarked on his AEA to Japan in 1974 and 1975 where he found an apprenticeship with potter Funaki Sensei of Izumo. It was there that he learned about Oshojin Ryori: Buddhist “Purification Food.” He says, “By pure, miraculous luck, I’d happened upon something that would inspire me for the rest of my life.”
Upon returning from Japan, Dale says he experienced severe reverse culture shock. One remedy was found in building a tea house on campus with professor Harold Wright and other students. He found solace there, spending time trying to “comprehend what I had learned at Mineji,” and also performing casual tea ceremonies for guests, including the president and his parents at graduation.
After graduating from Antioch with a double major in ceramics and Japanese studies, Dale apprenticed in Boston under one of the first “celebrity chefs,” Hiroshi Hayashi at the bustling Seventh Inn Restaurant. Chef Hayashi was a master chef teaching culinary discipline, technique, and how to be a leader as a chef in your community.
In 1978, Chef Dale opened the original Wolfdale’s in Homewood, California on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. His intention was to stay only long enough to help his family members open a new restaurant. “I was destined for the big city light of San Francisco or New York,” he says. Dale created the menu concepts which were quite unique for the time, especially in the area. As Chef Roy Choi notes, “Sinatra brought the Rat Pack and prime rib to Tahoe, but Wolfdale’s brought the first real chef-driven food to the north side of the lake.” The isolation of the tiny mountain community allowed him the creative liberty to invent new recipes instead of being influenced by culinary food fads. By 1983, Dale and his wife were the sole owners of Wolfdale’s Restaurant, and they continued to build it into one of the finest and most creative dining experiences in the region.
Dale describes his culinary fundamentals as “essentially Asian and European fused with a California spirit. Our menu and wine selection changes frequently to reflect the availability of fresh ingredients and newly released vintages. We are always looking for that inspiring new Michael Jones plate, a new technique, and an unconventional combination,” says Chef Dale.
In celebration of Wolfdale’s 40th Anniversary, Dale has published Wolfdale’s Cuisine Unique, a cookbook and memoir reflecting on 50 years of experiences. More than a cookbook, it shares stories of culinary inspiration, creativity, and passion. Each of the seven chapters begins with Chef Dale’s personal experiences, followed by signature recipes and accompanied by beautiful photography. He provides a visual timeline of his youth in Buffalo, studying in Yellow Springs and Japan, cooking in Boston, and life and work in Tahoe.
“I credit my Antioch education for the experiences and creative inspiration that make Wolfdale’s the renown establishment it is today,” says Dale. “Specifically it was my relationships with professors Karen Shirley, Michael Jones, and gourmet music professor John Ronsheim that gave me the culinary vision I express everyday.”