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Why Bacon is Great: Matt Gallaher

Matt Gallaher will be bringing his culinary magic to BaconFest Barfood and Corsair Artisan Distillery night as well. Get your TICKETS!

Why do you like cooking with bacon?
Bacon has enjoyed a surge in popularity recently and the rest of the country has fallen for the smoky, porky treasure that we in East Tennessee have known for years; Alan Benton’s Bacon.  Countless magazines, bacon enthusiasts and Celebrity Chefs have lauded his efforts.  Benton’s is intensely smoky and only die-hard bacon lovers will replace their breakfast bacon with Benton’s.  But it is this smoke that sets Benton’s apart from the pack and it shines in a supporting role, whether in a pot of beans or elevating the BLT to new heights.  Since I was first introduced to Benton’s Bacon at Blackberry Farm in 2003 it has been a staple in my repertoire.  I’m so pleased to see Alan enjoy the recognition that his dedication to this honest, artisanal, Appalachian product deserves.

What is your favorite thing about cooking in Knoxville?
My introduction to working in restaurants began at age 9 in my mother’s restaurant.  Small and independently owned, I was exposed to the sacrifice and dedication that goes into a chef-driven and chef-owned business.  Over the next several years I began to realize how special these places really are.  Knoxville expanded further and further West and countless major chain restaurants took advantage of the sprawl and set up shop here.  We saw the landscape of Knoxville restaurants change in a big way…the paradigm was shifting.  Some Knoxville landmarks (The Torch, The Roman Room and, more recently, Harold’s, Regas Restaurant and Patrick Sullivan’s) have closed and with each closing we lose some character and Appalachian spirit to the chains.  But the culture is slowly turning back to the small business owner.  We still have Tomato Head, Pizza Palace and  Ye Olde Steak House going strong and we see new, chef owned places opening all the time.  So, I suppose my favorite thing about cooking in Knoxville is that I see a bright future for small, independent restaurants and I hope the culture in Knoxville will continue to nurture and support this trend.

If you could have a meal cooked by anyone living or dead who would it be?
Hmmm. it’s not easy to pick just one.  Some names immediately jump to mind:  Auguste Escoffier, Julia Child, Jean Louis-Palladin.  But those talents have passed on and, being a realist, I turn my thoughts to those still with us.  I’ve been fortunate enough to travel extensively in the US and around the World and have enjoyed some amazing meals along the way.  However, the only restaurant that I really regret missing in my travels is Au Pied De Cochon in Montreal.  Martin Picard is renown for taking indulgence to a new level with his Foie Gras-centric menus. Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods have both featured the chef’s sometimes over-the-top feasts.  In the hands of an amateur, a meal based on a rich delicacy such as Foie Gras could quickly become gluttonous.  But Chef Picard is able to bring a much broader perspective to his menus at PDC (as the locals call it).  He finds the best of what’s available locally and showcases beautiful Pork, Maple Syrup, Red Deer and amazing Seafood in addition to the fatty Duck Liver.  Although not without controversy, especially from animal rights activists, Chef Picard fiercely defends responsible fishing and farming practices and the traditional cooking techniques of his French training.

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