2014 Kentucky-Tennessee Rising Star Chef Matt Gallaher of Knox Mason

2014 Kentucky-Tennessee Rising Star Chef Matt Gallaher of Knox Mason
February 2014

While growing up on a 170-acre farm, Matt Gallaher got secondhand industry experience through his mother’s small restaurants and catering operations. Even his grandfather, Dr. Thomas Gallaher, had a latent culinary impact on young Matt, cooking magnificent breakfasts and holiday feasts for the family. But being so connected to Southern cooking felt natural, not professional, to Gallaher, who worked for his mother but earned a chemical engineering degree from the University of Tennessee.

It wasn’t until Chef Holly Hambright saw Gallaher cooking at Lord Lindsey Catering that someone convinced him it was time to focus on food. Hambright took Gallaher in, treating his employment like an apprenticeship of sorts. Four years later, a professionally skillful Gallaher approached Blackberry Farm, where he worked for Chef John Fleer with Chef Joseph Lenn as his peer. He was hired as a line cook and eventually moved up to sous chef.

Departing Blackberry Farm, Gallaher began an unexpected four-plus year world tour cooking for music acts like Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Neil Young, The Eagles, and Kings of Leon. Leaving touring behind in 2011, Gallaher’s next client was no less famous: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. The position enabled Gallaher to stay in one place (after cooking in 14 countries) and reconnect with the land, planting gardens, and foraging. It’s his connection and deep understanding of Southern foodways that Gallaher, along with childhood friend David Rudder, brings to Knox Mason in downtown Knoxville.

I Support: American Cancer Society


Why: My uncle passed from cancer in 2003, and for the last several years I’ve donated a dinner to the Huntsville, Alabama chapter. It is one of the most exciting nights of the year for me as I’ve forged so many friendships with others who have experienced loss from cancer. It’s amazing to see the generosity and enthusiasm that ACS has for finding a cure for cancer. I’m inspired by the strength and sacrifice that I’ve seen in my aunt and all the other friends and families who have lost loved ones to cancer.

About: The American Cancer Society is a nationwide, community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer.

Interview with Kentucky-Tennessee Rising Star Chef Matt Gallaher of Knox Mason – Knoxville, TN

Meha Desai: How did you get your start in cooking?
Matt Gallaher:
[My] mom had a journalism degree, but when I was 9, she started a catering business and had two restaurants. I loved it. She encouraged me to [pursue] academic stuff. I got degree in chemical engineering, but worked in restaurants through college. I finished school knowing I would never work as a [chemical engineer].

MD: How was your experience of culinary school? Would you recommend it to aspiring cooks?
MG: I did not go to culinary school. I read every book I could, worked in every kitchen I could, and it squared me away.

MD: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
MG: I spent four years at Blackberry Farm. It taught me a lot. [At the time], their property was expanding but not the staff. My parents rented property on Blackberry land before it was the resort. I loved it there. I cooked all over the world—across four continents and 14 countries. I also worked in Nashville, cooking for the governor. It was my public service.

MD: What is your favorite tool?
MG: I'm a big spoon guy. I collect antique spoons for use in plating. The bowls are always deeper and wider than anything you can readily find today.

MD: What tool do you wish you had?
Probably a CVAP oven. When I worked for the Governor of Tenessee, I had one and though I didn't cook in it often, it was indispensable as a fermenting chamber for charcuterie. 

MD: When hiring new cooks, what is your favorite interview question?
MG: I've learned that people looking for work will say anything they think you want to hear in order to get a job. I've been burned by a couple of employees who changed their tune after we hired them. So maybe the most important question is “Will you work for $8.50/hr?” Sacrifice paved the way for my success and I expect that from my team.  

MD: What is your favorite cookbook?
MG: I'm in love with Susanne Goin's books right now. I hope to cook like her someday.

MD: What is your most important kitchen rule?
MG: No excuses. There's always a way to ensure quality. Make it happen.

MD: What’s your favorite restaurant off the beaten path in your region? What are your favorite dishes?
MG: There's a Japanese place called Anaba in Knoxville. It's in a barn shaped building that I think used to be a liquor store but to find monkfish liver and takoyaki in East Tennessee is pretty special. I could eat there every day I think.

MD: What is your favorite dish you have ever made?
We get about a month of truffle season in East Tennessee so I'm ALWAYS really excited to be able to feature them in my dishes. I did a 142ºF Farm Egg with Roasted Local Mushrooms, Tennessee Truffles, Chive Beurre Blanc, and Potato Chips a couple of years ago. It's hard to beat eggs and truffles.

MD: Where do you most want to go for culinary travel? Why?
MG: Southeast Asia or Japan. Ingredients and techniques are SO different from the American South. I'm always studying, always learning and I think a week in the East would teach me volumes.