Hugh Acheson |

Hugh Acheson

He may have been born in Canada, but this French-trained, Georgia based chef has come to represent the cuisine of the New American South. Hugh Acheson is the chef/partner of Five & Ten, The National, Gosford Wine, and Empire State South. His accolades include Food & Wine's Best New Chef (2002), the AJC Restaurant of the Year (2007), a four time James Beard nominee for Best Chef Southeast (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) and a 2007 Rising Star from He has come to more national attention recently first as a cheeky contestant on Top Chef Masters and then as a judge for the current season of Top Chef, which is heading into the final four tonight. He also is the author of the just released A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen. He talked with Cooking District about how Southern Food doesn't always mean fried, how local is better and shared recipes for his sorghum sweet potatoes, a feta laced roasted carrot and beet salad, marinated anchovies with grapefruit and pepper, and fried okra salad with heirloom tomatoes, arugula, and green goddess dressing

How did a guy from Ottawa find his way to Athens, Georgia?
My wife is from the South and and wanted to come back for graduate work years ago. And except for a two year sojourn in San Francisco where I worked at Mecca with Mike Fennelly and was the opening sous chef at Gary Danko, this is where we've stayed.
Athens is such a great place, Athens has this amazing array of very smart, successful people who could live in Paris or New York - but they choose Athens. There are arts and music and trapeze studios, it's culturally an amazing and creative place to be.

What were your first impressions of Southern food?
At first glance it was rich and ...for the first two years I started getting into what Southern food could be.

I was raised in French kitchens, and this was pre-sustainable, pre the idea of everything having to be local. It wasn't a trend, everything just was local. We had people who foraged and sold mushrooms door-to-door. Naturally the lamb came in the back door from this farmer Bing and then, well, Bing's wife Marie-Helene happens to make goat cheese.

It was easy to apply that same philosophy and practice in the South because there is such an amazing agrarian thread running through the region. It was like if you looked behind the gauzy curtain, there were these amazing Southern dairies and country ham producers and there were chicken farmers who weren't producing for Perdue or Cargill.

How do you define Southern Food? And do you think that what you do falls into the category of New Southern?
What I say is that I do good food in the South. What I do is a direct reaction to the farms here. I never want to encapsulate an entire region with a label. Especially one that is so vibrant and changing. Now Southern food is influenced by Korean food and Mexican food, which I think is great. It's important to upend the standards and stereotypes.

How did your stint on Top Chef come about?

I had been approached about auditioning for Top Chef a bunch of times but kept declining. But then Top Chef Masters called and that was different. It's for charity. And Masters is a little less risky, we've already made it to a certain extent, it's a little more insulated. And then the producers discovered that I'm kind of a wise-ass, and they asked me to be a judge on the regular season. It's fun.

Your cookbook, A New Turn in the South, manages to be modern but maintains a vintage, heirloom feel. How did you achieve that balance?
It was a very personal project, it's meant to evoke the idea of a kitchen notebook. We didn't use a ghost writer,{Rinne Allen} the photographer, is a friend here in Athens. We really wanted it to reflect what we do in the restaurants but still be approachable for the home cook. Books like the Eleven Madison Park cookbook are amazing, but we were going for something different. I wanted this to be achievable. Food doesn't have to be a precious thing that no one can do. I want this book to be something to get dog-eared in the kitchen and something that people use to feed themselves.
Grapefruit & Anchovies
Ache Roasted Carrot and Beet Salad


No documents found

Sign In to post a comment.