Decca's Annie Pettry Shares Her Lifetime Love of Fire

Chandra Ram

Cooking over open flames may seem like a new trend, but it’s been going on since humans discovered fire. Annie Pettry spoke with us about the primal enjoyment she finds while cooking over fire at Decca, her restaurant in Louisville, Ky.

On learning to cook over fire 

I’ve been cooking over a fire since I was a kid. Both of my parents had wood-fired stoves for heat, so as a kid, I was the one building the fire, tending the woodstove. My family was really outdoorsy; we camped and hiked a lot, so on vacations, we cooked over fire. It was mostly s’mores and hot dogs, but one of my first memories was the smoker we built by the trout pond at my mom’s place. We built a teepee smoker with sticks, covered it in bark, and built a fire pit underneath, adding bark when the coals died down. We filleted the trout we caught and put them on racks or hung them in the smoker. I’ve always loved playing with fire, so I knew I wanted to build that into the restaurant when we opened Decca.

How she decides what wood to use

We use wood from naturally fallen trees we get from a supplier; we call him Dave the Mountain Man, because he hikes from Louisville to Virginia every winter. But he’s also an arborist; we met him when he did the trees on our patio at the restaurant. He takes down felled trees, hand-splits them, and seasons the wood for three months in open air. So our wood supply is seasonal; we get a lot of pecan wood in July, because pecan trees tend to fall during the spring storms.

We always have a couple of types of wood in our mix: an easy-to-light wood, one that burns long and hot with high BTUs, and a fruitwood. Dave mixes it for us, in the woodpile behind the restaurant, or if it’s humid, we might bring some wood in from outside to keep it dry. He talks to us about what wood is coming in next, so we can change the menu depending on the wood coming in. We think about the season for both the ingredients we’re cooking and for the wood we’re cooking with. 

The importance of live-fire cooking to her as a chef

It’s a primal connection to the first cooking. There’s just something about it; it’s part of our DNA. That flavor you get from the wood and food is just so delicious. It’s a constant process of tending the fire, but it’s pure enjoyment. 

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