Ask foodies across America about Nashville’s most famous chefs, and Deb Paquette’s might not be the first name you hear. But for more than 30 years, Paquette has trained and mentored countless chefs — and helped women succeed in a notoriously male-dominated industry.
Beloved chef and owner Deb Paquette is known for adding extra unexpected ingredients to create unique dishes, so it’s funny that Etc. (pronounced et cetera) gets its name from omitting something. Her confident pairing of complexity and playfulness is on display at Etc. in brunch, lunch and dinner menus dotted with Korean pulled pork sloppy Joes with daikon kimchi and fermented black bean mayo, Vietnamese short rib with spun lemongrass noodles and candied peanuts, and chicken breast with honey black bean butter and candied garlic broccoli. Take away the final letter from Deb’s sleek downtown establishment, Etch, and you get an intimate eatery tucked away on a quiet Green Hills side street. And the neighborhood is so delighted that guests can hardly sit down before stopping to chat between tables on their way to the bar.
Before Nashville was filled with cocktail bars, award-winning restaurants and hipster-friendly coffee shops, Deb Paquette was on the culinary scene as the first woman in Tennessee to qualify as a certified executive chef. Three decades later, she’s still there, helming the kitchen at her restaurants, Etch and etc., and mentoring a cadre of chefs along the way.
Chef Deb Paquette has built a loyal legion of fans from her years cooking at local favorites, such as Cakewalk Cafe, Zola, and her current home, Etch. Though the city was all atwitter at the announcement that she had plans to open a second restaurant in Sylvan Park, that project, named Truss, unfortunately never came to fruition thanks to a series of zoning and codes disputes. It turns out that Sylvan Park’s loss is Green Hills’ gain, as Paquette and her restaurant partners decided to focus their attention on a new opportunity in a mixed-use development tucked behind The Mall at Green Hills, where Crestmoor and Bedford Avenue come together.
In 25 years covering restaurants in Nashville, I’ve accumulated enough menus to load two large file cabinet drawers so full neither one will close. They chronicle the evolution of our city from the pre-Food Network hey-day of fern bar chains through the emergence of a new generation of chefs with youthful creativity stoking the genesis of independent restaurants transforming urban neighborhoods, to our current state of a dining destination town bursting with new restaurants, celebrity chefs and an enviable national profile.
Digging through those drawers, I find reminders that in some cases, pioneering restaurants suffered from being ahead of their time, their pre-gentrification location or the immigration of enough diners to appreciate their vision. In some cases, their contributions towards transforming a neighborhood led to their own demise as they were bulldozed or priced out of existence. A moment of silence please for Sasso, Ombi, Radius 10, Six Degrees, Mirror, Rumours Wine & Art Bar, Mambu, Laly’a Rul and tayst.
And a resounding “Cheers!’ to a chef who came to town more than 30 years ago and, after an inauspicious start at the revolving restaurant atop the Hyatt Regency Hotel, carved a niche she has owned ever since.
Fusion, molecular gastronomy, farm-to-table and snout-to-tail define certain decades but Deb Paquette has religiously followed her arrow — regardless of the trends.Every menu I own could be stripped of the name of the restaurant and I would still be able to pick hers from the pile, whether it be Third Coast, Cakewalk, Bound’ry, Zola or Etch.
“We know the Green Hills traffic debacle but there are so many back ways into Green Hills — and our diners know the back, back ways to get here,” Deb laughs. “We’re very happy to be in a neighborhood that is appreciative of nice and fun dining.
“I’ve seen lots of faces I haven’t seen in a while, lots of people from Zola days who didn’t want to venture downtown to Etch, or maybe went once but don’t want to deal with that again.”
It’s easy to spot familiar faces in a restaurant as intimate as etc., with the nicely spaced indoor seating and 12-stool bar — all contained in one gorgeous room of eye-popping surfaces: copper, matte wood, sculpted cobalt blue ceramic tile and white marble. Credit Katie Vance of Powell Architecture for designing a space both striking and serene. Carpet on much of the floor allows parties to converse comfortably, an accomplishment in modern dining, as is the confidence to eschew a television over the bar.
There are six featured cocktails, simply named for their dominant spirit — bourbon, mescal, aged gin, gin, rum and vodka — and heady with generous pours.
Lacking an olive or nut option to absorb the booze while reading the menu, we ordered the Bread and Butter and were rewarded with lightly grilled slices of superb sourdough from Bella Nashville — renowned for their pizza at the Nashville Farmers Market but very selective in their bread clientele.
I could have gone through an entire loaf, myself, poring over the menu. Looking back at a 15-year-old menu from Zola, the etc. descriptions of each dish are more succinct but no less global, exotic and unfamiliar to even the most worldly diners. Please resist whipping out your phone at the table and consulting what Deb calls “the Google machine;” your server will explain all.
Throughout her career, some diners have lobbed criticism that “There so much going on in her dishes,” and “Her food is just so complicated.” To that, Deb replies, “They’re right! I grew up in a creative family and was encouraged to express myself. I was allowed to paint the walls in my room how I wanted and to paint a scene in our bathroom of a kid flying a kite and a big tree. When you’re a creative person, you have to give yourself the opportunity to express yourself.
“With cooking, that allowed me to give myself permission to put something on a plate that is a guessing game. This is the food I do. It’s a little bit of cray-cray. My mantra has always been to give people food they can’t make or don’t want to make at home.”
When it came time to do the etc. menu, Deb first wrote “pages and pages of ideas,” then sat down with Etch sous chef Jess Lambert, now etc. chef de cuisine. Together, they edited it and did their R&D in the Etch kitchen. For desserts, she turned to Etch pastry chef Megan Williams, who now does the same for etc., as well.
Just as she painted the scene on the bathroom wall as a child, Deb paints a plate like nobody’s business. The old adage, “We eat first with our eyes,” comes to mind every time a Deb plate is set before me.As a writer, I don’t always agree that a picture is worth 1,000 words but when you have this spectacular a subject, I’ll let the photos do most of the talking.
Deb Paquette is the first to admit that her food is not for everyone and she’s fine with that. “My food is not always easy or understandable, but you have to have that one edgy, wacky restaurant — and that’s what I signed up for a long time ago. This is how I express myself. I’m happy to still be doing food that’s different and unexpected all these years later — and grateful to the people who have come along for the ride.”
etc. is located at 3790 Bedford Ave., Nashville, TN 37215. Hours are: Lunch: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner: Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday brunch hours are coming soon! Learn more at etc.restaurant or (615) 988-0332.
Traditions are one of the things that make holidays so special. Recalling a certain smell or taste can transport you back to your first Thanksgiving together or that winter you got snowed in. In anticipation of the upcoming festive season, we’ve enlisted the help of five fabulous Nashville chefs who know a thing or two about melding extraordinary flavors with memorable moments.
Blue cheese sweet potato casserole with roasted pineapple butter and grated apple pie with foie gras Angel’s Envy ice cream
For more than 30 years, Deb has been a trailblazer on Nashville’s culinary scene. After 13 years as the award-winning chef and owner of the critically acclaimed Zola, Deb closed the restaurant and took a break in 2010. She returned to Nashville in 2012 to open Etch downtown, and her newest endeavor, Etc., opened in Green Hills this summer.
Deb’s cooking is an amalgamation of tradition and flair. Wanting to change things up because of the “yahoos” in her family who have been “food geeks since day one,” Deb threw some blue cheese in with the sweet potatoes one day, and the foundation was born for the blue cheese sweet potato casserole. The apple pie, on the other hand, is a recipe passed down from her grandmother. It’s the recipe that made her fall in love with apple pie — “and it reminds me of a really great woman!”
Blue Cheese Sweet Potato Casserole
4-5 medium sweet potatoes ½ cup vegetable oil 2 medium onions, diced 3 teaspoons cinnamon, divided ½ teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground black pepper 1 tablespoon Amarillo (Peruvian hot sauce) ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons brown sugar, divided ¼ cup candied ginger, macerated 3 ounces blue cheese crumbles 2 cups finely crushed corn tortilla chips 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted ½ teaspoon cayenne
Preheat oven to 350 F. Microwave sweet potatoes until halfway cooked (about 4 to 5 minutes). Allow to cool. Peel and dice into small to medium cubes. In a large sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until they begin to brown. Add sweet potatoes. Stir often and cook the hash until sweet potatoes are soft. If sticking occurs, add a splash of water. Add 2 teaspoons cinnamon, ginger, salt, pepper, Amarillo, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and candied ginger. Taste and add salt if needed. Place in a casserole dish and let cool. Crumble blue cheese over top. In a mixing bowl, stir together crushed tortilla chips, remaining teaspoon of cinnamon, butter, cayenne and remaining ¼ cup brown sugar. Taste and add salt if needed. Top casserole with tortilla mixture. Bake for 10 minutes. Serve casserole at room temperature with roasted pineapple butter.
Roasted Pineapple Butter
½ large ripe pineapple, grilled, cooled and roughly chopped 3 tablespoons sugar 1 ½ cups unsalted butter
In a small sauté pan, heat sugar and grilled pineapple over low heat until sugar melts into pineapple. Cool and chop well. Soften unsalted butter and whip with the pineapple. Add a pinch of salt. If too thick, add hot water one drop at a time.
Grated Apple Pie
8 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored 1 cup white sugar 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 egg, beaten 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon cinnamon ½ teaspoon salt 1 9-inch unbaked pie crust, chilled 6 ounces pecan pieces ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grate apples on a box grater and dump into a strainer over a large bowl. Place a heavy weighted bowl on top of shredded apples for 30 minutes to press out excess liquid. Apples should be fairly dry. Drain off juice. Combine sugar, lemon juice, egg, flour, vanilla, cinnamon, salt and drained shredded apples in a bowl and mix well. Spoon the apple mixture evenly into pie shell. Combine pecan pieces and melted butter in bowl and toss to combine; spoon evenly over top of pie. Set pie on a baking sheet, cover lightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 25 to 30 minutes or until filling is bubbling and top is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely before slicing. Serve topped with foie gras Angel’s Envy ice cream.
Foie Gras Angel’s Envy Ice Cream
4-5 ounces B-grade foie gras, cut into morsels 1 ½ cups sugar ¼ cup butter, browned 1 cup milk 4 egg yolks 2 cups cream ¼ cup Angel’s Envy bourbon
In a medium sauté pan, warm half of sugar with 2 tablespoons water over medium heat. Let melt until light brown, only stirring once or twice. Add foie gras and turn once to lightly brown. Add rest of sugar and milk. Bring to a light boil and then reduce heat to low. In a small mixing bowl, whip egg yolks to ribbon-like texture. Slowly drizzle (temper) a few ounces of hot milk into the eggs while continuously whisking. Add eggs back to milk, continuously whisking. Add to blender. On high, add cream, browned butter and bourbon. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight before churning in an ice-cream maker.
More often than not, tipsters, readers, friends and family of Eater have one question: Where should I eat right now? What are the newest and hottest restaurants? For that very reason, we offer the Eater Heatmap, which will change periodically to highlight where the food and drink-crazed masses are flocking to at the moment. This month Butcher & Bee and Vui’s Kitchen come off the list, and we welcomeDose Cafe & Dram Bar, Deb Paquette’s latest venture Etc.and Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint’s epic new SoBro location.
Did we miss your favorite? Is there an egregious omission? Take to the comments and make your opinion known!
Deb Paquette’s Etc. is a much needed addition to the Green Hills dining landscape. Open for lunch and dinner, the food is classic Paquette, drawing on influences from around the world. And it’s easily the best dining space in the neighborhood.