The trendsetterHanover native serves up Pa. Dutch-inspired dishes in Nashville
French cuisine had Julia Child. Cajun and Creole cooking had Paul Prudhomme. And now, with the passing of Betty Groff in early November, Pennsylvania Dutch fare may soon see Hanover native Andrew Little become its next national cheerleader — from all the way down in Nashville, Tenn.
As chef and general manager at Josephine, an “upscale-casual” restaurant in Nashville's trendy 12South neighborhood, Little's modern take on traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dishes such as scrapple and potato dumplings has caught the attention and praise of the Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure and Forbes Travel Guide, among others. He was even invited to cook last year at City Grit, a “pop-up supper club” for New York City's hippest gourmands.
It's an impressive leap for a kid who had no idea he wanted to be a chef someday. Although he does remember spotting a chef at the Altland House restaurant in Abbottstown one time, watching him come into the dining room in his tall white hat and long apron, looking so “regal,” as Little puts it, and wondering what it was like to be him.
Q: Did you do any cooking as a kid?
Lives: Nashville, Tenn.
Works: Josephine, a restaurant in Nashville’s trendy “12South” neighborhood
College: Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, N.Y.
For fun: Drives through the countryside around Nashville, which reminds him of southcentral Pa.
Other careers he considered: Tuba player in a symphony
A: I didn't have that experience that some chefs do of being attached to their mother's apron strings while they cook. The extent of my cooking as a kid was warming up some Campbell's soup and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Is it true that you were on track to become a professional musician?
I studied tuba for years and thought I'd play in a symphony someday. I even went to college for it, but when it came time to move to a big city and try to get a job playing, it just wasn't for me. I didn't love it enough.
So how did you wind up cooking?
I started waiting tables at the Hanover Country Club, but I wasn't very good at it, and they could never find me because I was always in the kitchen watching the chef. So eventually they moved me into the kitchen, which was a smart move, and I found that I loved cooking. I worked there for a while, and the chef finally took me aside one day and said, “Listen, if you're really serious about it you should go to culinary school and get a degree.” So I took his advice and applied to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
Was it a good experience?
It was fantastic. But I also learned a lot by taking the train down to New York City on Saturdays and working in restaurants for free. I'd call places where friends had done internships, and they'd give me a case of vegetables to clean. And I used the opportunity to soak up every detail of what was happening in those kitchens. It was a valuable experience.
Where did you go from there?
"The food I cook is very much inspired by my life in Central Pennsylvania."
I worked at some great restaurants in Bucks County and Virginia, and eventually I went back to the Hanover area and took a job at Sheppard Mansion. That was a major turning point for me. I spent most of my 30s there, and it was an incredible opportunity.
We had a 2,000-acre farm where we raised our own beef and had a garden that serviced the restaurant. And that's where I started to reconnect with Pennsylvania Dutch food. I grew up with sauerkraut, shoo-fly pie, hog maw and so on, so I was able to come back after working with different cuisines and put a fresh perspective on those foods. I thought, if I grew up with it, why wouldn't I reimagine it and continue to cook it? That idea really made sense to me.
And you took it with you to Nashville?
Yeah, Nashville's culinary scene was really booming in 2013, and since my wife is from Tennessee we thought it would be a good place to go. So when I became chef at Josephine, I wanted something that would separate us from what other places were doing. We're not strictly a Pennsylvania Dutch restaurant, but the food I cook is very much inspired by my life in Central Pennsylvania as well as all the Southern, French and Italian cooking I've done. So I call it “refined American farmhouse.”
What Pennsylvania Dutch dishes have made their way onto the menu? Spaetzle (egg noodles), chicken pot pie, pretzels?
All of the above. We make our own mustard, brown butter, dumpling dishes like schnitz und knepp (dried apples and ham). And of course I've reinterpreted and modernized scrapple (fried slices of pig scraps mixed with corn meal and flour).
Southern cooking is actually pretty similar. It's that agrarian lifestyle where, if you raise an animal, you're going to get everything out of it that you can. So, our food isn't what you get when you stop at a smorgasbord on a bus tour through Pennsylvania.
Do people come in specifically to try the Pennsylvania Dutch food? Do you advertise it on your menu?
We don't advertise it, but people do hear about it and come in. One day when I didn't have my uniform on I heard a guy at a table lean over to someone else and say, “I'll bet the chef is from Pennsylvania” and start listing things on the menu that he recognized. That makes me happy because it means my menu reflects my life experiences.<