2016 San Francisco Rising Star Hotel Chef Luke Knox of Burritt Room + Tavern at the Mystic Hotel

2016 San Francisco Rising Star Hotel Chef Luke Knox of Burritt Room + Tavern at the Mystic Hotel
May 2016

Born in Lincoln, but raised not far from his uncle’s farm in St. Paul, Nebraska, Chef Luke Knox built his work ethic tending the soil each summer. Having a family who loved to cook made it all the more natural for him to enter the industry, starting with a summer job as a prep cook at 15. 

Knox went to college to play baseball, but it soon wasn’t fun for him anymore, and he took a job as a lead line cook at a steakhouse in a town of just 16,000. Despite the small scale, Knox put big time effort into his work there, eventually moving to another small town to attend junior college cookery school. The environment proved too confining for his outsized drive and ambition, and Knox set off to Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, where he graduated.

Moving to Las Vegas, he was hired and later became sous chef at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon. Knox then left to work at Aureole, also in Vegas, as a sous chef under Vincent Pouessel, where he remained for two and a half years. Knox next made the leap to Los Angeles and Farmshop with Chef Jeff Cerciello before being called back by Charlie Palmer to become executive chef of Burritt Room + Tavern at the Mystic Hotel in 2013. There, Knox overhauled the menu in his style of classic, refined comfort and was named to Zagat’s 2013 “30 Under 30” list just a few months after his appointment.

Interview with San Francisco Rising Star Luke Knox of the Burritt Room + Tavern at the Mystic Hotel

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start? 
Luke Knox:
When I was in junior high school, I got a summer job at a Steakhouse. Both of my parents are teachers, so I was just trying to make money for myself. My mom’s side of the family are farmers, so I grew up working there, developed a strong work ethic, and started work as a prep cook as soon as I was old enough, 16. It just made sense. I grew up with my mom and family cooking and always really enjoyed that. It was the ideal summer job, and definitely beat working on the farm all summer long. 

Then I went to junior college for baseball, but it wasn’t fun anymore, it became like a job. So, I quit baseball,  got a job in a kitchen—a nice steakhouse  on a golf course as lead line cook—and finished out the school year. I hit the kitchen hard, cooking was my thing; it clicked. Eventually I went to junior college for cooking, in a small town, but it was too small. I made the jump to Portland, [Oregon] for culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu. I did an externship at Bouchon in Las Vegas, and they hired me on as sous before I met Charlie at Aureole.

SK: Who are your mentors?
Vincent Pouessel and Charlie Palmer. I like working for Charlie. I want to own a restaurant, of course—family-style, casual—one day. Maybe I'll end up in Vegas where I met my wife, who also works in the industry as an events coordinator. I'll know where I'm supposed to be when it feels right. 

SK: What has been you biggest challenge working here?
It has been almost three years now since Charlie called me to work here. It was really tough when I first started because I was fixing a restaurant which is harder than opening a restaurant.      

SK: Tell me about the Sunday chef pop ups you started?
Our Sunday chef pop ups are every Sunday with a new cook or sous chef every week. We plan out a month in advance. We work with the incoming chef to order all ingredients and develop the menu. The formula is three small plates ranging from $8 to $16. We also highly encourage the chefs to promote themselves to get guest in for there own experience and to show what they are really excited about in the culinary world. 

SK: How else are you involved in the local culinary community?
I support the Sprouts Cooking Club. I host cooking classes quarterly where I teach children my craft, and get them excited for the culinary world at a young age.

SK: What you’re favorite dish that you’ve ever made?
Local fish crudos with fresh citrus and charred vegetables. In Nebraska, I grew up on corn-fed beef and heavy cooked foods. My experiences have brought me to a point of appreciating simplicity in raw-ness and building flavor combinations with simple produce, done in different ways.

SK: Advice you’d give to your younger self?
Don’t take everything so seriously.