Meet Your Neighbor: Local grill master equates job to being an artist

Jessica Dunker • Jun 18, 2017 at 4:42 PM

When his work is done right, Greg Nelson considers himself to be a bit of an artist.

But the work doesn’t involve an easel, canvas or paint. His work is done on a piece of beef.

Nelson is a local champion among steak cooks. He won the Longhorn Steakhouse Steak Masters Series not only among his fellow grill masters, but among the region’s best.

“I’ve always liked cooking, a passion for cooking,” Nelson said. “It’s really like a work of art to craft a beautiful steak, the nice char marks, nice diamond.”

Nelson, 27, has been working in the restaurant business for over 10 years. He took his first job at Arby’s on North Roan Street when he was 16 years old. He worked there for a year before being hired at Smokey Bones, an opportunity he was given to find his knack for grilling.

After moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, in pursuit of a higher paying job, he couldn’t stay away and came back home to Johnson City, where he’s been working at Longhorn for about three years now.

Culinary manager Jeff Jackson said, “Greg is a great part of the team here. ... He’s always been one of the standout members here in the kitchen.”

Nelson competed against nine of his fellow grill masters in the restaurant and then against nine others on the regional level. For the restaurant competition, he won a $100 first-place reward, and for the regional win, he took home a $300 reward, so Nelson had no complaints on that end.

“I definitely like the exposure it’s brought me,” Nelson said. “It’s just real fun to talk about and be a part of.”

The final competition for the Steak Masters Series will be held in Orlando, Florida, and features other grill masters from 490 Longhorn restaurants, but Nelson will not be attending. Nelson said there is a scoring process in the competition. Unfortunately, Nelson said his score just barely missed the cut. Nelson said he hopes to improve his score next year to be able to make it to Florida as the Johnson City representative.

“It’s been a great opportunity to be selected for this competition to showcase my skills and see how I stack up,” Nelson said.

Nelson never received any formal education in culinary. He had his first child at 19 years old and said of that time, “My focus was working hard and bringing home the bacon.”

Nelson has expressed his interest in going to culinary school for the experience, but until then, he doesn’t mind practicing his hand at home with his wife and three kids. Nelson’s father cooked in his family home growing up, so now Nelson cooks restaurant-quality food for his own family.

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