He's cooked for rock stars and Tennessee's own First Family. Now he's opened a restaurant on Gay Street called Knox Mason.

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Chef comes back to Knoxville to open Knox Mason on Gay Street.

He's cooked for rock stars and Tennessee's own First Family. Now he's opened a restaurant on Gay Street called Knox Mason.

"I started cooking in my mom's catering company when I was about nine years old," Matt Gallaher said.

From there he earned a chemical engineering degree, picked up some jobs at pizza joints, then developed his cooking skills literally around the world.

"I went to Blackberry Farm and was there for four years including a year as sous chef. Left there to cook for bands on the road. So I toured the world for about four and a half years and cooked for a lot of different artists and then took two years to cook for the Governor, Bill and Crissy Haslam in Nashville," he said.

He's back home in Knoxville running his own restaurant named after a jar: Knox Mason.

"I saw a mason jar that said Knox Mason. We have several here. It's a line of mason jars that were made until the 1960s and I just thought it was a catchy name," Matt Gallaher said. "It doesn't necessarily mean anything but it kind of sounded cool."

So is his small restaurant and bar. The narrow space helped define Knox Mason's design: the open kitchen, the line of small tables against one wall, the intimate and often noisy atmosphere.

He shops at local farmer markets for vegetables in season and finds other ingredients in the region. Chicken and quail form Georgia. Trout from North Carolina. Catfish from Mississippi.

"I think when you start with great ingredients and you treat them simply, you don't mask flavors, you just let the ingredients speak for themselves, I think people can really connect with that," he said.

His favorite thing on the menu is his fresh pork rinds.

Since Knox Mason opened in January, Governor Haslam and his wife have enjoyed some meals there and so has Matt Gallaher's mom.

"She tells all her friends and I try to use some of her recipes in some of our cooking. I mean, the food we do here is pretty simple but it's good food. Good and simple food and that's the way I grew up cooking and so we may put our own little touches on it but at the end of the day it's mostly just the food I grew up with so she's really proud of that," he said.

He's cooked in 14 countries on four continents and served Tennessee's governor in Nashville. Now he's brought his experience back home.

"And I knew when I gave up my chemical engineering degree that I wanted to be back in Knoxville and I wanted to open a restaurant here so I guess this is my dream fulfilled," he said.

Knox Mason is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, and Sunday for brunch.

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