Annie Pettry grew up at two different supper tables. Her parents in Asheville, North Carolina, were deep into what folks at the time called health food, serving up everything from bean burritos to tempeh curry. During holidays, however, she’d devour Southern home-style cooking at her grandmother’s house in Atlanta.
As a result, Pettry developed a kind of culinary agility. It’s a trait that has served her well as she’s moved from the professional kitchens of San Francisco to New York City to Louisville, Kentucky, where in 2012 she took over as chef and partner at the New American restaurant Decca. There, her menu at first glance calls to mind the Italian-influenced California cuisine popularized by chefs such as Alice Waters and Loretta Keller, who is a mentor. But scratch a little deeper and you’ll find plenty of cultural twists built from classic Southern dishes and ingredients.
Take, for instance, Pettry’s version of chicken and dumplings, a homey favorite traditionally made with boiled chicken and rolled, biscuit-like dumplings. To add texture, the chef starts by searing skin-on chicken breasts and then roasting them in the oven. She gives the dish an Italian spin by piling the juicy, crispy chicken atop pillowy dumplings cut from semolina dough fortified with Parmesan and ricotta, egg, and the zing of lemon and black pepper. Grapes, sautéed briefly with baby turnips and their greens, offer a kiss of California; a drizzle of chile oil brings a touch of Asian heat; and a finishing sprinkle of pickled golden raisins evokes the Indian-influenced food her parents often served.
The result is a refined take on the original that depends less on long, slow simmering and highlights the flavors of the individual ingredients. It’s Southern, but more—at once familiar and exotic. “This dish,” Pettry says, “combines the comforts of home with the hint of a faraway place.”