He's a household name among some of the hottest chefs in the country, but in Monroe County, Allan Benton is just another self-proclaimed hillbilly.
A hardworking hillbilly.
As the owner of Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams, Benton works 13-hour days and says he wouldn't have it any other way.
Benton cures bacon, smokes it, and slices it, all in a small building in Madisonville. He also works his magic with ham, sausage, and prosciutto. And Benton has an old school way of doing things.
"I cut my teeth in the hills of Virginia, in an old log smokehouse with a dirt floor. My family had done this for hundreds of years. And it was just handed down from generation to generation," Benton said.
He knew the bacon business, and he knew a good opportunity when he saw one.
"The fellow who started the business, his name was Albert Hicks. And I wouldn't be in the country ham business if not for Albert Hicks. He started it, and as the old saying goes, if it's not broken, don't fix it."
It was a smooth transition. He bought the business from Hicks and has been running it for more than three decades. But he had no idea his magic seasoning, salt and brown sugar and his long aging process, would lead to outright fame.
"We have chefs, literally from Napa Valley to New York City and probably at least half the people who are seen on the Food Network, are customers of ours," says Benton.
And he didn't mention his recognition across the globe. Esquire Magazine named his bacon the best in the world.
"We certainly don't claim to make the best bacon in the world. We are glad that people like what we make," Benton said. "I'm in debt to a lot of chefs across the country who use my products, especially the family at Blackberry Farm here in Walland. These guys single-handedly started spreading the word about my products with other chefs across the country, and it's grown from there. And I owe them a debt of gratitude."
All of this and he still says it's one thing that makes it all worth it.
"When somebody calls me on the phone and says, 'Oh my, this ham or this bacon was absolutely incredible,' it makes it so easy to get up and come to work the next morning."
And Benton has a love of East Tennessee.
"I can't imagine wanting to live anywhere else. The climate is incredible, the natural beauty speaks for itself and the element of humanity that set in this area can't be beat," says Benton.
You would think Benton had some very complex recipes using bacon, but he says his favorite way to eat it is on a BLT sandwich.