Chef Andy Hunter brings Opryland Hotel experience to Chattanooga's Public House Restaurant

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Andy Hunter is the chef at the Public House in Warehouse Row. Chef Hunter was photographed on January 2022.
photo Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Andy Hunter is the chef at the Public House in Warehouse Row.

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

"It was great," he recalls. "I got lots of hands-on experience in every aspect of the kitchen, from the butcher shop to pastries."

Following graduation, Hunter spent five years in New Orleans working under renowned chef Anne Kearney at Peristyle. Then he left for Chicago, where he spent a number of years. He returned to Nashville off and on, and that's where he met restaurateur Nathan Lindley, owner of Public House.

"I worked with Nathan at his restaurant, Watermark, in Nashville for a little bit during one of those stops in Nashville," Hunter says.

But now, he's back working full-time for Lindley at the Warehouse Row eatery.

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

Here, he talks about his love for his grandmama's potato salad and what it's like working in 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's the first dish you can ever 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 or the eggs would scramble.

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

A: I've been very fortunate 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 any other person.

Q: Restaurant kitchens can be hectic places, so how do you maintain calm when the restaurant gets busy?

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

photo Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Andy Hunter is the chef at the Public House in Warehouse Row.

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

A: The menu at Public House is kind of an upscale meat-and-three with lots of delicious produce and sides. My favorite dish changes quite often, but I love the cabbage with bacon, and our fried chicken is so good.

Q: What trend or food do you think is most overdone in restaurants these days?

A: I support whatever trends help restaurants survive right now.

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

A: I have four kids, so any time my wife and I get to go out, we feel lucky. We like Rosecomb. I won a pumpkin-carving contest there over Halloween. We have had a lot of fun at Barley and The Bitter Alibi. Il Primo is also a go-to for us.

Q: What cuisine is your favorite and what's your favorite dish to cook?

A: I love to cook Southern-inspired French food. I make a pretty good gumbo. I love just about all ethnic foods. My current favorite is the Korean fried chicken at Han-Mi.

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

Q: What spice are you liking these days, and how do you use it?

A: We make an in-house barbecue spice for our barbecue carrots that I love. It's a blend of lots of spices. I put fresh thyme in everything.

Q: What's the one cooking tool in your kitchen you couldn't live without?

A: I use a Calphalon brand Santoku chef's knife for everything. But I love 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. This is what I've always wanted to do.

Q: What food is your guilty pleasure?

A: I love all tacos, and I don't feel guilty about it at all.

Here's Hunter's recipe for lemon pound cake, one of his favorites that 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 because you will need the zest from two of them and the juice from all five.

Lemon Pound Cake

For the cake:

3/4 pound butter

3 cups sugar

Zest of 2 lemons

5 whole eggs

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3 cups flour

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

For the syrup:

Juice of 5 lemons

3/4-1 cup sugar

For the lemon sugar:

Zest of 3 lemons

2 cups sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar and lemon zest. Add the eggs, one at a time, allowing to incorporate after each egg is added. (I usually add a big pinch of the 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 the 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 into the center of the cake comes out clean, 45 minutes to 1 hour or until cake tests clean. The top of the cake should be golden brown. Allow cake to cool thoroughly before removing from the pan.

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

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

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

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com or annebraly.com.