We are glad this Asheville, North Carolina native found her way to our fair city and gave us all the deliciousness that is Decca. Executive Chef and Decca owner Annie Pettry learned how to cook from both of her parents, and in very different ways. What most influenced her was staying true to the land and the harvest, and always knowing when produce is at its best. Her ever-changing menu and creativity are highlighted every night. Annie loves being a chef in Louisville, where “it’s easy to get your hands on amazing seasonal produce, pasture-raised meats and dairy and, of course, world-class spirits.” This “Top Chef” contender has always followed her heart, and it shows in her cooking. Meet today’s FACE of Louisville, Annie Pettry!
Both of your parents taught you to cook. What did you learn from them that you still use today?
My dad used to say that the secret ingredient to life was maple syrup. While I think he mostly meant it figuratively, his statement made me aware of the importance of sweetness in balancing out flavors. To this day when I season foods, the three main elements I am tasting for are salt, sugar and acid.
And of course life is always better with a little bit of sugar.
How do you set yourself apart as a chef in a foodie town?
I don’t think in terms of how to set myself apart. I am more focused on setting high standards and continually raising the bar, to challenge myself and my staff to keep growing and learning.
What inspires you when you are creating a new menu?
There are many sources of inspiration. The time of year or occasion, an ingredient or the produce that is in season is usually the starting point. From there it may be a food memory or a technique. For example, for a New Year’s Eve menu I wanted to serve black-eyed peas because of their traditional significance of luck in the new year. Once I knew the ingredient, I went from there and started thinking about memories I had with black-eyed peas. When I was a kid my grandmother would serve us black-eyed peas with greens, and she’d put ketchup on them to get us to eat them. Using this memory I created a dish recalling those flavors from my childhood: succulent scallops served with earthy black-eyed peas paired with the tangy and slightly sweet tomato jam with crunch from the crispy fried kale.
How does that process work for you operationally and creatively?
The creative process is hard to pin down. For me it seems to be a combination of visual cues, memories and trial and error. Once I have the idea for a dish, I make the components using a variety of different techniques. My favorite part of this process is tasting all of the different combinations of flavors and deciding what will ultimately end up on the completed dish.
How has Louisville’s food landscape changed since you opened Decca almost five years ago?
When Decca opened, the Nulu neighborhood was emerging as a revitalized area of Louisville. Over the years a lot of great businesses have popped up including restaurants, home stores and art galleries. Foot traffic has increased, and the neighborhood has gained traction from visitors. Today Nulu is an exciting neighborhood that has something to offer to everyone. As Nulu grows, it taps more into its potential and has become an integral part of the Louisville landscape.
What is your favorite meal in Louisville (besides Decca)?
Mung bean pancake and hot stone bibimbap at Charim. I love the banchan, or side dishes, that come with your meal!
How did you end up living in Louisville?
I was living in San Francisco when I was offered the job to open up Decca as its executive chef. Once I had accepted the job I had two weeks to move myself, my boyfriend (now husband) and our dog to Louisville, sight-unseen. Once I arrived I had six weeks to open Decca, and this included sourcing/creating/testing the menu, purchasing dinnerware/small wares and hiring and training all staff. It was a whirlwind! And here I am, four-plus years later, proud to live in Louisville and honored to own and run Decca restaurant with my husband Nate.
What were you most surprised to learn about the city after moving here?
I was surprised to find such an agriculturally rich area with an abundance of local farmers and producers. As a chef in Louisville it’s easy to get your hands on amazing seasonal produce, pasture-raised meats and dairy and, of course, world-class spirits.
You are a newlywed. How are you able to enjoy your new life as a wife with all the pressures of your job?
I am enjoying being married. My husband and I own and run Decca together, so there is not a lot of free time for just us, but at least we get to see each other all day. We were together for over seven years before we tied the knot. In fact, he proposed to me on our seven-year anniversary, which happened to also be Derby weekend, and a few days before I left to film Top Chef! Needless to say, 2016 was a busy year for us!
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
Every morning my husband and I walk our two dogs through the park, and every other day or so we will stop by our local coffee shop along the way. After I walk the dogs for coffee, if I don’t have a meeting, I’ll head to the gym for a workout. Then, I’ll head to the restaurant, where every day is different. Some afternoons are filled with administrative work, others are spent recipe testing or preparing for a special event, cooking demo or trip. Every day at 4:45 p.m. the whole staff comes together and eats a family meal while we have line-up, a daily meeting in which we go over what’s going on that night and in the near future. This is our time for training and education. We will taste new menu items, wine, etc., and go over our reservations for the evening. At 5:30 p.m., our doors open and the guests begin to arrive. This is the busiest part of the day in which I am either running the kitchen or overseeing service for the night. I try to spend some time in the dining room every night running food and chatting with guests. After dinner service, I retreat to the office for some administrative work and maybe a glass of wine. Depending on the night I leave for home anywhere between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. Once at home, it’s time to unwind before bed, and often this involves cuddling with my husband and our dogs. Then sleep …
What are three words that describe you?
Nice, dedicated, caring
What advice do you treasure?
To always follow your heart.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my ____________.
I love a vintage Coach purse, so if you see me around I will probably be carrying one.
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
I honesty don’t have a lot of free time to hang out around town, but if you do see me, I will most likely be at the park with my dogs or at a local restaurant, bar or coffee shop.
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
Charim, Holy Grale, 610 Magnolia, The Mayan Cafe, Proof, Grind, Feast, Pho Ba Luu, Garage Bar, Gralehaus, Harvest, Rye, Wiltshire on Market, Butchertown Grocery, Silver Dollar, The Post, El Mundo. And I really need to get over to Red Hog and Portage House soon!
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
Victuals, Ronni Lundy’s new book.
What are three of your favorite things right now, besides faith, family and friends?
My dogs, bubbly water, noodle soups
Thank you to Adele Reding Photography for the wonderful photos.
Read about more inspiring women in Louisville in our FACES of Louisville weekly features here.