New PBS show will feature Knoxville restaurant, East Tennessee meat curing business

An upcoming PBS special will put the spotlight on an East Tennessee business and a Knoxville restaurant that supports it.

Celebrity chef and host Lidia Bastianich visited Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Madisonville and Emilia in Knoxville's Market Square as part of the special, "Lidia Celebrates America: The Return of the Artisans."

On the show, Bastianich visits areas in Tennessee, California, Colorado, Michigan, Wisconsin and New Jersey to showcase the work local artisans are doing and how it affects the communities around them, according to a press release.

"The Return of the Artisans" will air at 9 p.m. Friday on East Tennessee PBS.

Bastianich's desire to get to know America better fueled the creation of "The Return of the Artisans."

She recalled growing up in Italy and seeing artisans and mentorship programs in which young adults could learn different skills. Bastianich said she wondered how much of that existed in America.

During the special, Bastianich travels to Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams to meet owner Allan Benton and learn about his dry-curing process for ham, bacon and sausage and how he passes that knowledge on to others.

She said touring Benton's reminded her of what she experienced in Italy.

"So for me it was interesting to see that this is really hands-on and he was this great artisan who is still there just like I recall in Italy," she said. "The programs of artisans, food artisans and how they really get their hands into it, how they love it, how they're passionate about it and how it involves the whole community."

Bastianich then made the trip to Knoxville, where she ate at Emilia on Market Square and spoke with chef and owner Matt Gallaher. Gallaher's restaurant uses Benton's products, including Benton's bacon in Emilia's carbonara dish, according to Bastianich.

"It's wonderful because you see first of all, it was great to see how energetic and how food oriented Knoxville is, and Emilia, an Italian restaurant, Matt Gallaher, the chef/owner who was so excited," she said.

"His parents, I think, had him in the direction of engineering or something, and he just kind of made a U-turn and came back to his passion, so it's great to see that. It's great to see how he uses and appreciates and highlights the local products, especially the bacon."

In addition to Benton's, the special showcases four other artisans around the country. Bastianich goes to Caldwell Vineyard in California's Napa Valley to highlight barrel making and barrel toasting, a process used in wine making.

She travels to Comal Heritage Food Incubator in Denver, where aspiring chefs learn about working in restaurants and get the opportunity to try out their recipes in a restaurant and catering business.

Bastianich also visits American Spoon in Petoskey, Michigan, where Chef Larry Forgione and foraging expert Justin Rashid create fruit preserves, and House Copper in Grafton Village, Wisconsin, where Sara Dahmen develops tin, iron and copper cookware using centuries-old techniques, according to the press release.

While the growth of artisans results in more products for communities, Bastianich said their success also leads to more opportunities for those who learn the craft.

"What I saw also in a lot of these situations is ... that these young people that work as artisans because they want to carry on (traditions) ultimately later ... had an opportunity to go back to school and really enrich themselves knowing the art by hand and then also going on in whatever business school or whatever and then starting their own business, so it's wonderful."

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Maggie Jones

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit


Published December 19, 2019