Babalu Tapas & Tacos has hired T.J. Saunders as executive chef of the downtown Knoxville restaurant. Saunders will oversee the culinary staff and create dishes featuring authentic, gourmet tacos and Spanish-style tapas with a southern twist.
Saunders’ mother started teaching him to cook when he was in the third grade growing up in Lansing, Michigan. He then decided to follow in the footsteps of his role model, Julia Child, an iconic American chef, author and television personality.
Prior to joining Babalu, Saunders served as executive and regional chef for Maryville College. He previously had served as executive chef at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Knoxville, Diverse Concepts in Knoxville and Café Del Mar in Del Mar, California. He served as a sous chef at Four Seasons Resort Aviara in Carlsbad, California, and at the Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn, Michigan.
Saunders and his wife, Spring, reside in Knoxville with their children, Jack, Madeline and Gabrielle. In his free time, Saunders enjoys fitness and team training, spending time with family and traveling.