Up and Coming Chef – Dennis Barber at The Copper Door

Up and Coming Chef – Dennis Barber at The Copper Door: I walked into The Copper Door Restaurant in Hayesville and was taken back by the fine dining décor. I could just as easily have been dropping into one of our favorite Atlanta restaurants for a romantic evening. The dining room is anchored by a massive stone fireplace. It offers a plush experience with a warm intimate atmosphere.

I visited with Chef/Owner Dennis Barber. He got to his current position in life by a career path decidedly different from most chefs I have interviewed. After college he went into the Air Force and spent 9 years as a bombardier officer in a B-52. Two of his best friends had opened and a restaurant in Hamlin, Louisiana. He asked them what he should do to get in the restaurant business as a chef. They laughed, but told him he should go to school.

Chef Barber enrolled at Delgado Community College Culinary Program in New Orleans. He was soon working as an intern at the Westin Canal Place near the French Quarter. Over the next 2 years he graduated and then complied with American Culinary Federation experience guidelines in becoming a certified chef. He stayed 6 years with the Westin as banquet chef, sous chef and finally as a fine dining chef. His most memorable experience was during the 1988 Republican Convention he and the Executive Chef were hand picked to cook for the President and Mrs. Reagan. He said they ate quite well, President Reagan was fond of Steaks and Nancy liked salads, but they both ate lots of fruit.

Chef Barber moved on to work with the Petroleum Club of New Orleans and then to Cajun Kettle Foods. The latter company offered him a stable 8 – 5 day. He worked creating and making sauces and prepared foods for grocery stores and take-outs. But, his goal, like many chefs, was to have his own restaurant someday.

In 1994 a prospect to fulfill this dream emerged and he moved to Atlanta to see if he could grow the opportunity. It did not pan out. He ended up working out of the food business for 5 years doing inside sales for Bell South. Away from the culinary life he found himself bored. He and his girl friend Jacquelyn, an interior designer, found an old gas station in Alpharetta that offered some great opportunities for his thoughts on a restaurant. One evening while talking about this possibility in front of two of Jacquelyn’s design clients they mentioned they owned an old gas station in Hayesville, NC.

Together, they drove to Hayesville on Labor Day 2004 and the rest is history. He quit his job and started renovations on the old gas station for the restaurant and the building next door for Jacquelyn’s design business. Jacquelyn opened her shop in June of 2005 and The Copper Door opened in March of 2007.

I have not been to Hayesville’s historic downtown square in a number of years. I was more than surprised at the number of nice storefronts with high quality products. This represents amazing growth despite the state of our economy. Obviously this community is working together positively to promote development. And Chef Barber’s The Copper Door offers the downtown a serious anchor as a culinary destination.

The menu offers foodies very high quality products such as daily fresh seafood, corn fed beef, signature dishes and many fresh products prepared from scratch. I was very impressed with his wine vault just off the intimate cocktail lounge. The wine list will satisfy even the enthusiast with some great selections. I asked Chef Barber his menu’s theme. He said while it is eclectic he tends to favor classic French. He uses real butter and all his sauces are made onsite.

He has several short and long-term goals. First is to offer his dining guests creative high quality foods at affordable prices. Next is to ensure a fine dining experience with elegant décor and high quality service. I suspect Jacquelyn had a hand in shaping the décor and I applaud her effort. Chef Barber feels extremely fortunate with the quality of workers he has found and developed and he trusts that visitors are enjoying the staff as well. Judging from The Copper Door’s reviews I found online I would say they are off to great success. The dining experience was very much fine dining such as you would find in a metropolitan restaurant. We enjoyed very polite attentive service. The Shrimp Kristine, large shrimp sautéed in butter with lots of garlic, was divine, as was seared sashimi tuna with arugula pesto. Maybe there is a little Cajun influence to Chef’s cooking as the Crawfish Tortellini with a spicy Tasso Cream sauce reminded me of an Emeril inspired dish. We will return.

Finally, Chef Barber mentioned the Commander’s Palace, the legendary dining Mecca in the Garden District of New Orleans. Maybe he said The Copper Door can develop a reputation in its region like the Commander’s Palace. You’re on your way. Bon Appetite.

The Copper Door, 2 Sullivan Street, Hayesville, NC 28904, phone 828.237.4030, info@thecopperdoor.com www.thecopperdoor.com

Lunch Mon – Fri 11AM – 2PM, Dinner Mon – Sat 5:30PM – 10P M

Up and Coming Chef – Dennis Barber at The Copper Door
By Chef David Darugh

David Darugh is co-owner of the Beechwood Inn, located in Clayton, GA. beechwoodinn.ws. The inn includes a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence Restaurant that features fresh and local products. David was the General Counsel of the American Wine Society from 1990 to 2001.