Start with the tapenade-stuffed quail eggs and pissaladière tart, paired with a glass of Clairette de Die, a sparkling wine from France.
Next comes bouillabaisse and a salade Niçoise with a Cassis rosé.
Then ratatouille with goat cheese croustillant and a Vin de Pays du Val de Montferrand Blanc.
On and on the night will go, 10 courses ending with cheese and dessert.
No worries if you don’t know pork crépinettes from a tarte Tropezienne. You’ve got a lawyer to guide your way.
That would be Douglas Powell, a partner at Hinton & Powell who knows his way around a kitchen and loves to share his talents with hungry friends. Last Saturday night, Powell and some gifted assistants made and served the dishes and wines mentioned during one of his “Table One” dinners at his home in Brookhaven, Ga.
Powell says he “tries to create the highest culinary experience” for up to a dozen guests who sit at his table. “We serve only fresh, locally grown, certified organic food. Our guiding principle will be flavor, health and sustainability.”
It was a cancer scare that took Powell’s interest in cooking from a simmer to a boil. He talked to the Daily Report about a passion for food passed on by his mother.
When did you first get interested in cooking?
Several years ago I was diagnosed with and successfully battled prostate cancer. My son and daughter were off at college and my wife Beth and I decided to go back to school for something fun. She studied creative writing and I looked around for something I would love.
My mother was a great cook. I always had a love of cooking and so I looked into culinary school. I applied to the International Culinary School of the Art Institute of Atlanta in Dunwoody. I attended classes at night for three years and graduated second in my class.
How did you make the jump to wanting to become a real chef?
In the third year of culinary school there’s an internship requirement. All through culinary school I continued my full-time litigation practice. I needed to find a restaurant where I could have an internship that would fit around my full-time law practice.
My office at the time was at Tower Place in Buckhead. Across the street Hotel InterContinental had opened with a French restaurant called Au Pied de Cochon. I approached Executive Chef Bixente Pery about an internship. He said flatly, “We do not have an internship program here and on top of that we do not hire lawyers.” I said, “If you change your mind let me know.”
About two weeks later he called and said he’d changed his mind and could I come in and start as a line chef under Chef de Cuisine Max Kiem. I began working March 29, 2006, on the line as first a prep chef, then a line chef working hot apps and then cold apps. After eight weeks and an “A” grade for the internship, Chef Bixente said he liked my work ethic and asked me to stay on.
Do you know why he changed his mind about lawyers?
He told me later that he had an internship as a novice chef in his home country, Spain. He recalled being turned down at first and then the “old man” chef changed his mind because he remembered the same thing happening to him in his youth. And so it goes, the door opens a little when we remember how we got where we are.
You did that while still practicing law. How did you manage your time?
Au Pied de Cochon was open 24/7. I ended up working there for three years on the line from 5:30 p.m. to midnight two nights a week. This was difficult to juggle because I could not afford to miss work at the restaurant. But the life of a trial lawyer has no fixed schedule. I managed never to miss a day of work in the restaurant and I was late only once or twice. Some days I was so exhausted I rested on a bench on Peachtree Street before heading to my car in the Tower Place parking lot. I loved every minute of it.
Why did you leave?
When the Great Recession hit Buckhead and some high-end restaurants were hurting, I volunteered to be laid off in 2010 instead of a regular chef losing his job.
What spurred your interest in wines?
During my work at Au Pied de Cochon I audited every wine course taught by wine educator Ophelia Santos at the culinary school. I passed with honors the WSET [Wine and Spirits Education Trust] intermediate and advanced exams. These exams are highly technical about wine knowledge and consist of a written exam and a blind wine tasting.
I was asked to teach the intermediate and advanced wine course for WSET students at the culinary school and did this for a couple years after working at Au Pied de Cochon.
I have continued to serve as a wine judge once a year at the Atlanta VinoChallenge, an international wine competition. I love tasting and learning about all types of wine. I have a small cellar in my home. I have become a close friend of Ophelia Santos, and she serves as the wine expert of Table One.
Why did you start Table One?
I started Table One to continue my fascination with fine dining and wine.
How do the dinners work?
Table One tries to create the highest culinary experience. We serve only fresh, locally grown, certified organic food, free from growth hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. We endeavor to avoid foods from factory farms and producers who utilize inhuman grazing and slaughtering techniques. Our guiding principle is flavor, health and sustainability.
Our guests enjoy a recital by a young and talented musician from 6 to 7 p.m. During this time they sample an amuse-bouche and sip a sparkling wine.
At 7 p.m. the guests sit at one table and my guest chef, classically trained Didier Lailheugue from Doazit, France, (a little village south of Bordeaux) and I begin final prep and plating of the remaining courses. Ophelia Santos introduces and explains each wine and why she selected it for the particular course. Our guest chef sits at the table.
The purpose of Table One is for good conversation at a dinner table. We employ a student server from the culinary school.
A retired corporate attorney and friend, Margaret Buker, who has become a floral arranger, provides flowers typical of the culinary region we feature with the food and wine.
We have served food and wine from Paris, Bordeaux, Basque-Catalan, New South, Tuscany and Provence. We took renowned Chef Alain Senderens of Paris, who was a leader in developing Nouvelle Cuisine, and re-created one of his dinners by using his famous cookbook. Our Guest Chef Patrice Gaubert of Atlanta trained with him and provided insight into his techniques.
I take it you are not doing these dinners to make money. What’s the motivation for you?
Yes, Table One doesn’t make money. In fact, it probably functions at a loss. Even though we charge each guest $150, the cost of the wines, food, flowers and recital more than offsets the price. I do it for the love of fine dining and fine wine. I do it to give back a little of what I learned in culinary. I do it to bring guests from different walks of life together to share stories and wit. Perhaps like it has been done in Europe for centuries. We have entertained lawyers, artists, writers, judges, an actor, a musician, chefs, physicians and mediators.
What have you learned about cooking at these dinners?
I have learned that there is an abundance in our backyard of fabulous ingredients and foods from all over the world and talented people to present it, serve it and partake in it. People have an insatiable appetite for seeing old friends and making new ones, if the setting is relaxed.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
Simple, straightforward cuisine is always best. It may sound trite or overused, but food that brings comfort to the dinner guest, is a delight to the eye, that warms the heart and has aromas that swirl through the room should be rule of thumb. I most enjoy cooking for friends who appreciate the time and care that goes into the preparation of good food.
I want the plate to look as if it was easy to make, where each course or portion exemplifies the best flavor, texture and color of the food being presented. You know when a tomato is at its peak. You know when a roasted ear of corn has the best texture and aroma. You know when a cut of meat or a filet of fish or a shucked oyster is a delight to the eye and nose. This is what I like to serve.
If you could cook a 10-course dinner for anybody, who would it be?
It would be for my wife Beth and myself in our home.