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Texas Chef Tim Love on His Time Spent in Knoxville and How to Not Be a Festival Rookie

With the Music City Food & Wine Festival coming up this weekend, Eater interviewed Texas chef, restaurateur and festival partner Tim Love.

So you're out in California?

Yeah, I'm out here shooting the second season of Restaurant Startup.

Is that taking up a big chunk of your time right now?

It is right now, September is real busy with it. With the exception of coming to Nashville for the festival, it's pretty much taking up my whole September.

Something I would guess a lot of people don't know about you is that you've spent quite a bit of time in Tennessee. You were raised in Texas, but your father had a farm in Cookeville, and you got your degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville while working in a number of restaurants there. Had you worked in restaurants before then?

I tossed pizzas at Little Caesars before I went to Knoxville (laughs). And yeah, I had spent almost all my summers since I was 11 at my dad's farm in Cookeville. That's what kind of made my choice to go to Tennessee, to be a little bit closer to my dad. So when I was at UT, I had my first job in an actual full service restaurant at a place called Kotsi's Grill, owned by Frank Kotsianas. I also worked at a place called L&N Seafood for a while, which is closed. Then at Kiva Grill, where we were doing gourmet southwestern food in 1991, the same year that Bobby Flay opened up Mesa Grill. We were doing pretty much the same food he was, very progressive at that point. Merlot's was another Knoxville kitchen I worked in.

With some much of your time having been spent here, any plans to expand?

Well I can tell you my wife loves the city of Nashville, and that's as far as I'll go with that. I love Tennessee, and if the right thing comes along I'm sure I wouldn't think twice about doing it. But right now I'm opening a restaurant in Austin this fall, so that's my concentration right now.

Let's talk a little bit about the Music City Food & Wine Festival. You're definitely a veteran of these types of events. What are some pro tips you can offer to people attending so that they can make the most of their time and not stick out as 'the festival rookies'?

First things first, especially for women: have the proper footwear. You don't want to show up in heels. Wear shoes that you like and that are comfortable, because you do a lot of walking. I know it sounds dumb, but you have a few cocktails, and you're in the wrong shoes, you could easily end up on your ass instead of on your feet. I've seen it many times.

Secondly, pace yourself. Remember it's two days, so you don't have to get through every winery, every bourbon tasting on the first day. It's easy to get excited because it's just a plethora of booze everywhere. Also going to the demos and panel discussions will help out because not only will you learn something, but it will help slow you down on the drinking. And I actually like to pace myself with a double espresso about every couple of hours just because. There will be a couple of coffee stations there. Throw it in there not because you think you want one, but just because you need to have one.

Also, come Sunday about three o'clock, the DJ is going to start sounding really good and you're going to think you're a really good dancer, but just remember: you're not (laughs). But seriously, the festival is really a place where everybody can come and just be themselves and have a good time.

So how often do you come through Nashville now?

More often than you think, really. I'm one of the partners in the festival, so I'm up there a lot, doing this and that, helping get sponsors together. And I'm great friends with the Kings [of Leon], so I like to come up there and cook dinner for us every once in a while when they aren't on tour.

Since this time last year, a lot has changed in terms of the restaurant landscape here in town. It sounds like you're certainly getting up here more than you were a year or two ago. What has surprised you the most about Nashville, just in general or specific to the restaurant industry?

Nashville has always had its own little cool factor, but I just feel like now other people are starting to discover it. You almost see Nashville becoming 'Austin-esque,' where restaurant design started to have a big presence and then the food is catching up. That's exactly what happened in Austin. You see restaurant design start developing really well and the next thing you know you see these young chefs start getting more creative, traveling and then coming back to Nashville. And there's great food in Nashville, it just keeps getting better and better. But it still sticks to its roots a little bit, which is what I love about it.

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[Photo Music City Food & Wine]