Knoxville’s Hospitality Couple, Aaron Thompson and Jessica King
Thompson and King have revolutionized Knoxville’s drinks and dining scene with Brother Wolf, a Negroni bar named to Esquire’s Best Bars in America 2022, and Osteria Stella, a Northern Italian-inspired restaurant acclaimed by Italy’s La Cucina Italiana and winner of Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Award 2023. The two had previously collaborated on Sapphire, which is now the location of Lilou. Thompson and King transformed Sapphire into Knoxville’s premier bar and restaurant, while becoming a couple in the process. They helped drive downtown’s renaissance, winning awards and attracting guests like Vince Vaughn, Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell. Thompson joined Sapphire as a bartender and worked his way up to bar manager and general manager prior to purchasing the local 2 of 3 icon. Along the way, he also became a Sommelier, Head Chef and weekend DJ. Previously, King was the rising star mixologist behind Peter Kern Library, Knoxville’s first nouveau speakeasy, located at The Oliver Hotel. She has also competed in international bartending competitions.
A Love Affair with France, Its Gastronomy and Wine Culture
King had long admired French gastronomy since her teenage years when she first visited France. Thompson became passionate about French wine after reading Kermit Lynch’s “Adventures on the Wine Route.” It motivated Thompson to earn certifications from the Court of Master Sommeliers and visit Champagne, Burgundy and Provence. For Lilou, the couple spent a month in France conducting research and visiting iconic restaurants in Lyon, Paris, Reims, Beaune, Nice, Nîmes, Toulon, Paradou and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This was complemented by dining stateside at acclaimed French restaurants in New York and Washington, D.C.
Classic Brasserie Cooking Reimagined for Today’s Palates
At Lilou, Chef Benjamin will serve his modern interpretations of classic brasserie fare, as well as dishes inspired by culinary visionaries like Chef Bernard Loiseau, Chef Hélène Darroze, Chef Michel Sarran and Chef Pierre Gagnaire, as well as his grandmother, who transformed produce from the family’s farm into sumptuous meals. Chef Benjamin is upholding the brasserie’s tradition of simple dishes made with honest, local ingredients, prepared quickly and served in a convivial manner, complemented by a robust beverage program.
Chef Benjamin is updating some dishes, like Escargot, to be lighter on the palate and is embracing contemporary techniques like sous vide, smoking and curing to intensify flavors and textures. He is also reworking plating to make the dishes more dramatic and photogenic. Lilou also has a formidable boulangerie and pâtisserie program.
Prior to joining Lilou, Chef Benjamin owned and operated Kinou, an acclaimed restaurant in Singapore specialized in Basque dishes from France’s southwest region, the Pays Basque, where he was born and raised. This followed working his way up the culinary ladder in restaurants across Paris, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Biarritz/Toulouse and Montreal.