Chef Joseph Lenn, a native of Knoxville, has always had a deep love for East Tennessee. Food has played a major role in the lives of his family members, including his immediate family, as well as his grandparents and great-grandparents, many of whom grew up on farms in East Tennessee.
Joseph found his way into the kitchen primarily due to his curiosity. He recalls that one of his first cooking lessons from his mother was simply put, “just don’t burn them.” His interest in cooking heightened after high school while working at Butler & Bailey Market in Knoxville. Quality ingredients from the market led to cooking for friends and family after work, and it was the enjoyment of these gatherings that led him to the decision to attend culinary school.
Joseph left East Tennessee in 1999 to attend Johnson and Wales University in Charleston, SC. His professional cooking career began following his first year of culinary school, when he accepted an internship under Chef John Fleer at Blackberry Farm. During his second year at JWU, Joseph began working for Chef Robert Carter at Charleston’s Peninsula Grill, where he remained for three years. While there, he cooked alongside Sean Brock, who invited him to be on the opening team at The Hermitage Hotel’s Capitol Grill in Nashville, TN, which he happily accepted.
After two years in Nashville, Joseph longed to return to East TN, and he was able to work with Chef John Fleer again at Blackberry Farm. Soon he was promoted to Sous Chef, and after 5 years in a variety of positions, Joseph Lenn became Executive Chef of the Barn Restaurant there. During his tenure he was named a Grand Chef by Relais and Chateaux, and he received the James Beard award for Best Chef Southeast in 2013, the first chef in Tennessee to win this prestigious award. After a decade at Blackberry Farm, Joseph decided in April 2015 to undertake the challenge of opening his own restaurant.
He chose the Daylight building in downtown Knoxville, TN, on the corner of Union Ave. and Walnut Ave., one block from Market Square. Joseph has had his eye on this space, a former photography studio, since cooking on the sidewalk at the location for a dinner honoring close friend Allan Benton in 2011. In 2016 he opened J.C. Holdway Restaurant (named after a special uncle), which celebrates foods from the Southeast, cooked by wood-fire.