A Family Feeling in Oak Ridge

Photo by Nathan Sparks

Fire & Salt gives Chef Alex Gass a stage for his culinary creativity

When you walk into Chef Alex Gass’s Fire & Salt restaurant in Oak Ridge, you are immediately charmed by the staffers’ camaraderie. “It’s a family environment,” says hostess Eden Frazier, whose sister Jayley is a pastry chef. They and a dozen or so others came with Gass from Walnut Kitchen in Maryville. When Gass told them he was starting a restaurant, they said they wanted to be a part of it. It’s an atmosphere reminiscent of the TV series The Bear. “That show is inspiring to me,” says Executive Chef Billy Krebs. “I wasn’t sure about doing this, but then I watched it and said, ‘This is where I need to be.’” 

Krebs’s son, Gabe, 20, is assistant manager and drums with his dad on guitar and Gass on bass in their progressive rock band Sirens. “We express ourselves as people in music the same way we do in our cooking,” says Gass. “Real food is unity, bringing people together.” 

Photo by Nathan Sparks

Gass’s family and Oak Ridge roots run deep. He started cooking with his aunt, mother, and grandmother for the Kern United Methodist Church and with his mom’s catering business. At 15, he started at Big Ed’s Pizza and then opened a couple of Aubrey’s before private cheffing on the road with stars like Elton John, Van Halen, and Widespread Panic and returning to the Randy Burleson family of restaurants at Bistro by the Tracks. 

Gass’s mom died a few years ago, and he still mourns. A Cityview review of Walnut Kitchen a couple of years ago compared Gass to Emeril Lagasse the way he darted about the kitchen. “Emeril was my mom’s favorite chef,” says Gass. “I saw that review and showed it to my dad and said, ‘Wouldn’t Mom have loved to see that?’”

Photo by Nathan Sparks

The restaurant’s name comes from a farmer’s wise words that Gass remembers from childhood, that “You don’t need to do too much to good food. It only takes a little fire and salt.” No surprise that Gass is passionate about local, fresh ingredients. 

As a starter, the Watermelon Caprese salad tosses locally sourced melon with heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, shallot, basil, balsamic reduction, and a drizzle of Georgia Olive Oil. 

We recommend combining your starter with one of bartender Giana Maldonado’s seasonal cocktails, headlined by a Lemon Mint Julep, a Morning Mule, and Lavender Lemonade. Hint: The Lemon Mint Julep is out of this world.

Photo by Nathan Sparks

Moving on to the “fire” portion of the meal, it might be easy to overlook the BBQ ribs. Everyone does ribs, but Gass’s are served with a blackberry barbeque sauce, jicama slaw, and, of course, a fried cornbread that would make his mom proud.

The six-ounce Fire & Salt Filet, served with braised leeks, demi-glace, celeriac puree, hot sauce reduction, and blue cheese compound butter, is a savory treat for the more modest appetite. Folks looking for a little more might opt for the 12-ounce pork porterhouse, classically presented with roasted potatoes and a honey-bourbon glaze.

The Shrimp & Grits feature Shelton Farms grits, andouille sausage, shallots, and house-made hot sauce for a new twist on this classic. The Salmon in a white balsamic reduction is simplistic perfection (remember the fire and salt?) which allows the buttery, creamy flavor of the salmon to shine.

Photo by Nathan Sparks

All entrees are available with a plentiful array of à la carte side dishes, from caramelized onions (our favorite), various compound butters, and a heavenly cheese and bacon radiator.

The wine list has been carefully curated and offers diners a robust, but not overwhelming selection of reds, whites, and sparklers. We love a good Pinot Noir and tried “Purple Hands,” a Willamette Valley pinot with a slightly effervescent quality, a delightful change from the usual.

Gass never stops creating, in his kitchen or in his band. “Music is how we’re held together as humans,” says Gass. “We’re held together by vibration. When I took cooking from a job to a passion, I realized cooking was music—manipulating the vibrations to project happiness to others.”  

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