Stephen Myers has no intention of changing what makes Cooper’s at the Airport Hilton so popular.
“We have a very strong lunch crowd,” he said. “I don’t want to change what people come here for.”
What the new chef does hope to add is more local produce to the menu and add a higher profile to the restaurant by involving Cooper’s in community events and hosting wine and beer dinners at the restaurant.
Myers, 30, recently became executive chef at the Airport Hilton and brought with him a respected resume that includes training at Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta and experience at Blackberry Farm in Walland.
The Knoxville-native and West High School alum always enjoyed hanging around the kitchen watching his mother and grandmother cook. “I got exposed at an early age to European food. My grandfather was CEO and president of SCM Chemicals, which became Millennium Chemicals, and he was always going around the world, so I got that exposure at an early age,” he said. “I also had an uncle in Brussels and another uncle in England, so I was influenced by that.”
In 1995, his grandparents renewed their wedding vows, and, as part of the celebration, they took the extended family on a trip to England and France. “That fueled the fire of becoming a chef even more,” he said.
Myers almost nixed a career in the kitchen for a life in the classroom. “I’m a history nerd, but that’s something I keep to myself. I was going to become a medieval history and British literature professor,” he said.
Myers said he instead chose to attend the Le Cordon Bleu Academy, a school based in Paris with a satellite campus in Atlanta. “I found out Le Cordon Bleu was in the United States, and they had one in Atlanta,” he said.
As part of his education, he got a paid internship at Blackberry Farm in Walland. “You gave the school your top three places you would like to work, and Blackberry was my first. I always heard about it. I knew it had the prestige of being one of the best places in the Southeastern United States, so it was my first choice,” he said.
After he finished his three-month internship with Blackberry Farm and graduation, Myers worked at Copper Cellar, then he became sous chef and then executive chef at ChaCha. Myers then went to Club LeConte as sous chef before he moved onto to Southern Graces in Bearden where he was first sous chef and then executive chef.
At Southern Graces, Myers has some good memories of working for celebrities as they visited Knoxville. “I cooked for everyone from Tom Jones to the Smashing Pumpkins to Elvis Costello, the Doobie Brothers and Martha Stewart,” he said.
His next position was working for Bill and Grady Regas as executive chef at Regas Restaurant in downtown Knoxville. “I really enjoyed getting to be executive chef of a 90-year-old, family-owned, upscale restaurant,” he said. “There was a good bit of history there, and it was very enjoyable.”
When Regas closed Dec. 31, Myers interviewed at the Hilton and got the job as chef at Cooper’s.
Myers said he hopes to continue doing the Top Chef fundraising competition for the March of Dimes, and will now do it as chef at Cooper’s. “This is my fifth year to help with the Knoxville March of Dimes fundraiser. It has always meant a lot to me,” he said. “My daughter Zoe was born six weeks early, and the March of Dimes means a lot to me.”
Myers said he also wants to do wine and beer dinners out of the restaurant. “We’ll also have public/private cooking classes at the Glass Bazaar and cooking classes at The Market in Maryville,” he said.
The chef said he tries as much as he can to keep a “farm to table” attitude in his cooking by using locally produced ingredients for his dishes, and he hopes to continue that practice at Cooper’s.
“People know me for my use of local food. What I don’t grow, I get locally. I try to use as much locally grown and/or organic foods as possible,” he said.
As an example, Myers said he likes Benton’s bacon from Vonore, Sweetwater Valley Farm cheese and Locust Grove Farm Goat Cheese.
Myers said he has no intention of making drastic changes to the popular restaurant, just improvements. “I just want to keep what has made this restaurant popular,” he said. “I don’t want to change anything people like about Cooper’s Restaurant.”
The chef said wants people to know Cooper’s as a restaurant with a reputation for providing quality food, a good atmosphere and attention to detail.
Myers said people’s tastes have changed with regard to their desire for good food. “I think people’s pallets had definitely changed,” he said.
The chef said a big factor in this change has been that people watch more cooking shows, read more about good food and how to prepare it and are more educated. This has changed their attitudes. “People are more savvy,” he said. “A lot more people are interested in where their food comes from.”
Myers and his wife, Miki, have a son, Cooper, 3 1/2, and daughter, Zoe, 19 months. The family lives in Knoxville.
For information on Coopers restaurant, call the Airport Hilton at 865-970-4300.
Next week: A look at Chef Cooper’s cooking glass with Food writer Robin McDaniel at The Market at Washington and High.