Back home after years traveling the world, a local foodie moves in on the 100 block of Gay Street. The cool spot is getting rave reviews and the man behind it has serious street cred in the business.
"Southern food is the best food on the planet if you ask me," says Matt Gallaher. "We have pimento cheese and pork rinds on the menu every day, deviled eggs every day."
Welcome to Knox Mason. "It's a cozy kind of intimate space, the food is really accessible, it's southern food," says Matt.
And Matt Gallaher knows a thing or two about the South. "Grew up on 170 acres on a farm, not a working farm, we did have horses and chickens and stuff like that," says Matt. "My mom had catering and a couple of small restaurants. I was around food and cooking from an early age."
He's always loved food, but it wasn't until after he got his degree in chemical engineering at the University of Tennessee, he decided to pursue his dream. And in came Holly Hambright of Holly's Eventful Dining.
"She offered to treat my employment like an apprenticeship," says Matt. Four years with her and he was off to a place that prides itself on fine dining, Blackberry Farm.
"I literally thought I would walk in and peel onions all day and that would be my exposure and they hired me, but they hired me as a line cook," says Matt.
He moved up to sous chef, a job that gave him just the experience he needed.
"The philosophy of just saying 'yes' and figuring out how to make it happen and it's not always easy, but that's really changed my career," says Matt.
And then it was time to move on. "When you spend the majority of four years in the same four walls and you have the opportunity to travel beyond that, it was too attractive to turn down," says Matt.
Matt became the tour chef for huge bands. "Everybody from Martina McBride and Tim McGraw to the Eagles, Neil Young, Kings of Leon, Keith Urban," says Matt. "I got to travel all over the world, cooked 14 countries, four continents. It's hard work, it's basically building a kitchen from scratch every day, so it's something new every single day."
He was working full time for Kings of Leon when the governor came calling.
"I got a call two or three weeks after the tour ended asking if I would interview for, to be the governor's personal chef," says Matt.
He met with Crissy Haslam and was immediately sold on the job. "I interviewed and I literally got chill bumps during the interview. She was such an engaging personality and so friendly, so sweet and her vision of what my job would be is exactly what I had missed for a while being on tour," says Matt. "Her vision was to use Tennessee products as much as possible, to plant a garden, being able to reconnect with the way I grew up eating."
He loved the job and he says he loved Tennessee's first family. "Their philosophy is to get people around a table and really engage and break down walls and a good meal can do that and they do that very well," says Matt.
"They knew when I interviewed that this was my dream, to come back to Knoxville and they are huge Knoxville supporters," says Matt.
Within a few months of leaving the Governor's Mansion, his new home became Knox Mason on Gay Street.
"I just feel the warmth that we've received from the community has been outstanding," says Matt. "This is my dream and I can honestly say I've never been happier."
Matt Gallaher, from the hills of East Tennessee to a tour bus around the world and back again.
"East Tennessee is in my heart and the Smoky Mountains, to me, are still the most beautiful place,"says Matt.
One of Your Stories. There's no place like this one.