Bruce Bogartz is executive chef and owner of RouXbarb. And chances are, if you've dined at his establishment, you'd think he's been cooking his whole life.
In reality, Bogartz's foray into the culinary field wasn't as serendipitous as one might imagine.
He was working as a dishwasher at Copper Cellar in Knoxville almost 30 years ago when his interest was first piqued.
"For some reason, I got drawn into the whole energy of the kitchen. I mean, it was crazy. It was scary," he said. "It was the kind of place you would wake up sweating about at night. But there's just something about it."
Bogartz went on to earn a degree in economics at Atlanta's Emory University, but he decided on a different plan for his future.
He attended culinary school in Philadelphia and racked up an array of experience in the field before opening RouXbarb in 2008. Bogartz worked for Warner Bros. in Aspen at a private house for seven years; he was the chef for HGTV for 18 months; he's worked at low-end, high-end, small and large restaurants.
But it's clear what he's most passionate about is his current role as executive chef and owner of RouXbarb.
"The ability to take care of people, please people, take a raw product that anyone can get and do something special with it — that's all really gratifying," Bogartz said.
A focus on using fresh, local ingredients is very important to him and is something he feels has "always made sense."
"We serve seasonal, regional food. We've been part of the farm-to-table movement before it was a catchphrase," Bogartz said. "We do everything from low-brow to high-brow, depending on the moment, whether it be foie gras or barbecue, fresh seafood, game, lots of vegetarian food."
Bogartz has fostered close relationships with area farmers, which enables him to use many fresh, regional products in his cooking — accepting what's available instead of requesting ingredients that may not be in season.
"When I get to cook whatever I want, whatever I'm most inspired by, I do my best, more so than when someone tells me what they want," he said. "And I feel like it's the same with the farmers. I just say, 'I want what you're proudest of.' "
"It's nice to be a responsible part of the community," Bogartz continued. "It's nice to be able to support cottage industries. … But there's just no question that the quality is amazing."
RouXbarb, at 130 S. Northshore Dr. in Knoxville, is a small, stand-alone restaurant. The dining room is compact, with a capacity of just 52.
"As much as the food here, it's also about the experience," Bogartz said. "The space is limiting ... but there is a certain intimacy here. I connect with almost everyone in the dining room. I know what people like, what they don't like. I know what's going on in their lives."
If there's one thing Bogartz is determined to do, it's to please his customers. Time and again, he talks about the importance of providing visitors with a great experience all-around.
But sometimes, he admits, his eagerness and passion are misunderstood.
"If you think you know me and you've never been (to RouXbarb), you've only heard things, you really need to give me a shot," he said. "I'm very outspoken, and ... it's hard when you have your own business. If you come in here and give me the opportunity, I think I can improve your opinion of me and what we do."
And, at the very least, you'll enjoy a great meal.
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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