Chef Andy Hunter brings the Opryland Hotel experience to the Public House restaurant in Chattanooga

Andy Hunter, executive chef at the Public House in Warehouse Row, is originally from Nashville and apprenticed in the culinary program at the Opryland Hotel for three years. It was an intensive program with a schedule that included four to five days a week in the kitchen and one day in the classroom.

“It was great,” he recalls. “I gained a lot of hands-on experience in all aspects of cooking, from butchering to baking.”

After graduating, Hunter spent five years in New Orleans under celebrity chef Anne Kearney at Peristyle. Then he left for Chicago, where he spent several years. He returned to Nashville from time to time, and it was there that he met restaurateur Nathan Lindley, owner of Public House.

“I worked with Nathan a bit at his restaurant, Watermark, in Nashville during one of those Nashville stops,” Hunter said.

But now he’s back full-time for Lindley at the Warehouse Row restaurant.

[READ MORE: How Nathan Lindley keeps three restaurants running]

Here, he talks about his love for his grandmother’s potato salad and what it’s like to work at a Southside restaurant.

Q: Do you come from a family of cooks?

A: My mother is a wonderful cook and my grandmother’s potato salad is legendary. One of my older brothers says his chili is better than mine, and I’m happy to let him think so.

Q: What is the first dish you remember making?

A: I remember stirring the lemon curd for my mom’s lemon meringue pie. It was a big responsibility because I had to keep stirring otherwise the eggs would scramble.

Q: Who do you consider your mentor in the culinary world?

A: I’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of great chefs and restaurateurs, but Anne Kearney probably helped shape my palate and my understanding of what food can be more than anyone else.

Q: Restaurant kitchens can be busy places, so how do you keep calm when the restaurant is busy?

A: A sense of humor goes a long way, but I mostly try to keep a positive attitude and get through the hectic parts.

Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Andy Hunter is the Head of Public House at Warehouse Row.

Q: Describe the Public House menu. What is your favorite dish to prepare on the menu?

A: Public House’s menu is a high end three and three kind meat with lots of delicious produce and sides. My favorite dish changes quite often, but I love bacon cabbage, and our fried chicken is so good.

Q: What do you think is the most over-the-top trend or food in restaurants these days?

A: I support all the trends that help restaurants survive right now.

Q: Describe your favorite night when you have a free night in Chattanooga?

A: I have four kids, so every time my wife and I go out, we feel lucky. We love Rosecomb. I won a pumpkin carving contest on Halloween. We had a lot of fun at Barley and The Bitter Alibi. Il Primo is also a must for us.

Q: What is your favorite cuisine and what dish do you prefer to cook?

A: I love cooking southern-inspired French dishes. I make pretty good okra. I like pretty much all ethnic foods. My current favorite is Korean Fried Chicken at Han-Mi.

[READ MORE: Chattanooga-area readers share their best restaurant meals of last year]

Q: What spice do you like these days and how do you use it?

A: We make a homemade barbecue spice for our barbecue carrots which I love. It is a mixture of many spices. I put fresh thyme in everything.

Q: What is one cooking tool in your kitchen that you couldn’t live without?

A: I use a Calphalon brand Santoku chef’s knife for everything. But I like a mandolin and my Vitamix blender.

Q: Complete this sentence: If I hadn’t become a chef, I would be

A: I am what I wanted to be when I grew up. It’s what I always wanted to do.

Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?

A: I love all tacos and I don’t feel guilty at all.

Here’s Hunter’s recipe for lemon pound cake, one of his favorites which he hopes to have under a glass dome at the Public House bar so the bartender can slice them for guests. The cake takes a total of five lemons. Zest them before juicing as you will need the zest of two of them and the juice of all five.

Four Quarts In Lemon

For the cake:

3/4 pound butter

3 cups of sugar

The zest of 2 lemons

5 whole eggs

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3 cups flour

1 1/2 cup buttermilk

For the syrup:

Juice of 5 lemons

3/4-1 cup sugar

For the lemon sugar:

The zest of 3 lemons

2 cups of sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest. Add the eggs, one at a time, letting them incorporate after each egg added. (I usually add a big pinch of flour before adding the eggs, just to make sure the eggs and butter don’t separate) Combine the baking powder and flour. And then add the flour mixture and buttermilk in three parts, mixing just until it comes together after each addition. Mix on low speed until all ingredients are just incorporated. Pour the batter into a well-greased Bundt or angel food cake pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the cake is set. own. The top of the cake should be golden brown. Let the cake cool completely before removing it from the pan.

To make syrup: In a small saucepan, combine lemon juice and 3/4 cup sugar. Bring to a boil. The mixture should be sweet and slightly syrupy. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, if needed.

To make the lemon sugar: Combine the zest of 3 lemons with the 2 cups of sugar and mix well.

Assembly: Once the cake has cooled and been removed from the cake pan, brush it generously with syrup. I usually do this at least twice to let the syrup really soak into the cake, then coat the cake in lemon sugar, slice and serve.

Contact Anne Braly at [email protected] or annebraly.com.

Freeda S. Scott