2014 Kentucky-Tennessee Rising Star Chef Annie Pettry of Decca

2014 Kentucky-Tennessee Rising Star Chef Annie Pettry of Decca
February 2014

Rising Star Chef Annie Pettry was raised in Asheville, North Carolina, an influential and self-proclaimed “Foodtopian Society.” From an early age, she was growing vegetables, foraging for mushrooms, fishing for trout, and spending countless hours in the kitchen absorbing her parents’ global cooking style. Not surprisingly, Pettry decided to pursue cooking as a career. It’s a pursuit that has taken her across the country and back again.

Early on, Pettry moved cross country to work in the pastry kitchen of the three-star restaurant,The Meetinghouse, in San Francisco. Next, to formalize her training, she attended the French Culinary Institute in New York City, where she also worked for Craig Koketsu of Park Avenue. Adding to her kitchen résumé, she held formative posts with Elliot Moss of The Admiral back home in Asheville and James Beard-nominated Loretta Keller of Coco 500 in San Francisco.

It was Keller who helped connect Pettry with the owners of Decca in Louisville, Kentucky. And with blind faith in her new city (she had never visited) and growing confidence in her skills, Pettry returned to the East Coast to take on Decca's executive chef role. Now firmly ensconced in Louisville’s culinary scene, Pettry combines the bright flavors of California, the products of the South, and the avant-garde styles of New York City into her subtle, soulful dishes at Decca

I Support: Food Literacy Project


Why: I think it is important to introduce the next generation of kids to food in its natural state. By involving kids in the process of growing, harvesting, and cooking we can create a life-long connection that can be vital to their future wellbeing.

Interview with Kentucky-Tennessee Rising Star Chef Annie Pettry of Decca – Louisville, KY

Meha Desai: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Annie Pettry: I’ve been drawn to cooking since I can remember. I toyed with the idea of cooking for a long time but didn’t commit to it. I was working in restaurants trying to figure out what else I wanted to do with my life and how else to make a living. I realized that I was looking in the wrong place and that it had been right in front of my face the whole time. Food and hospitality were my life already. It was that realization that gave me the driving force to dive in and give it everything. I’ve been working in the restaurant/food industry since 1995 but my first official culinary position was in 2002 in San Francisco, California at The Meetinghouse Restaurant.

MD: How was your experience of culinary school? Would you recommend it to aspiring cooks?
AP: It depends on the person and the situation. I enjoyed culinary school. I’m not sure if it’s the best way to learn how to cook. To me the main benefit of culinary school is to give you a base knowledge of cooking and to jump-start your résumé. In an alternate universe, I would have rather traveled and staged or apprenticed in great kitchens around the world. Overall, I think working in kitchens is the best way to learn.

MD: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
Food at its best is nourishing, delicious and a pleasure to eat. Food and dining are about hospitality and about bringing us together in a shared experience. I believe that food has the power to transform.

MD: What does “American Cuisine” mean to you?
I find it hard to define partly because American cuisine is so diverse offering many regional styles each with their own cultural influences. I guess American cuisine is an amalgamation of its influences. Maybe that’s the beauty of it—it combines varied histories while embracing new influences inviting them all into the melting pot that is America Cuisine.

MD: Which person in history would you most like to cook for?
My mother. She shared with me her reverence for ingredients and her hospitable nature. I cooked with her and for her growing up but I never got to cook for her as a trained chef.

MD: Who would you most like to cook for you?
Auguste Escoffier—“Good food is in effect the basis of true happiness.” Or, if I can pick a fictional character, Tita de la Garza from Like Water for Chocolate.

MD: What steps have you taken to become a sustainable restaurant?
Our building was remodeled using sustainable and environmentally friendly resources, and is heated and cooled by geothermal energy. We compost and recycle everything we can—even our cooking oil gets recycled for biodiesel. The majority of our produce, dairy, and meat come from local farmers, producers, and purveyors. We only use sustainably caught or raised seafood. We always use locally and/or family owned businesses, services and products when [possible].

MD: What ingredient that you like do you feel is underappreciated?
Celery. It is often used as a building block or background flavor, as in stock, but it isn’t often used as a main flavor component.

MD: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
Ooh, that’s a tough one. Celery and Cherries; Rutabaga and Apricots; Harissa, Preserved Lemon, and Mint.

MD: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
AP: Honestly, I haven’t found the holy grail of questions yet. Mostly I go by my gut feeling. I’m looking for someone with a great attitude who is eager to learn, willing to work hard and do what it takes.

MD: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
Hopefully, cooking locally, seasonally, and sustainably will become the threshold of the restaurant industry not just a trend.

MD: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
Something in the tech industry.

MD: What will success look like for you?
Owning a humming restaurant (or a few) where diners flock for an enjoyable and nourishing meal. Providing a work environment where employees are inspired and challenged to grow. Supporting and growing a sustainable food system. Having the resources to travel and experience new cultures and cuisines. Striking a balance between a successful work life and a satisfying personal life.