Why Hugh Acheson is Georgia’s Golden Boy

Enjoy delicious dining at any of chef Hugh Acheson restaurants
Hugh Acheson, photo by Jason Hales

The Best Thing to Happen to Georgia Since Peaches …

Who is Hugh?  Hugh Acheson is a Canadian-born chef, cookbook author, restaurateur, and shameless unibrow sporter who has the Midas touch (figuratively speaking because then how would we eat the food).  Hugh has several restaurants in Georgia, the first of which was launched in Athens in 2000.

As his career and celebrity-chef status have evolved, Hugh has been a judge for my (arguably) favorite show, Top Chef, a competitor of Top Chef Master’s, a six-time consecutive James Beard award-nominee and 2012 winner, and a thoroughly decorated chef with multiple honors and titles including the distinguishment of being identified as one of the top 100 contemporary chefs by master-chef Mario Batali. Hugh is on fire.

Of course, it’s not for his celebrity status, his impressive trophy wall, or his foxy unibrow that make him the best thing to roll out of Georgia since the peach.  It’s the food and the man behind the food that make him Georgia’s Golden Boy.

Enjoy delicious dining at any of Hugh Acheson's restaurants
Photo by Jason Hales

Hugh Acheson is Hilarious

If you’ve ever seen Hugh on TV, you know he has the ability to execute a flawless deadpan evaluation.  I don’t know too many Southerners who don’t appreciate a really good dry sense of humor, so when Eater.com featured this video of Hugh making nachos from Kris Jenner’s alleged cookbook, I nearly fell over with giddy delight.  “It’s … food.”  I’m still laughing.

Hugh’s Restaurants Have Elevated Georgia’s Dining Scene

Certainly, there’s the approachable yet elevated fresh, Southern cuisine served at Hugh’s Atlanta-based restaurant, Empire State South, but it’s the restaurants outside of the famous capital city that make Hugh such a treasure in the State of Georgia.  In addition to Empire, Hugh is also a chef/partner at:

Enjoy delicious food at Hugh Acheson's restaurant the Florence in Savannah
The Florence, photo by Andrew Thomas Lee

Hugh’s culinary style embraces his interpretation of southern cuisine blended with European styles and influences (Hugh’s training included the French style).  Satisfied critics have described Hugh’s food as being “neo-retro Southern.”  To me, that’s an elaborate way of saying, “new Southern”.

In my experience with Hugh’s food, I found that unlike many southern chefs participating in the “neo-retro Southern” trend, Hugh is comfortable letting the flavors of the food speak for themselves. Everything we enjoyed at Empire State South was incredibly fresh, accessible, and well prepared.

Enjoy delicious dining at Hugh Acheson's Empire State South in Atlanta
Empire State South

Another thing that I like about Empire is that a simple, Southern breakfast (think pimento cheese biscuit with bread and butter pickles or chicken hash) is served, as is a Sunday brunch, which we’ve also had.  I’m a shameless sucker for Eggs Benedict (runny yolk, mmmmm (side bar: I didn’t “like” eggs nor did I brave trying a runny yolk until it was served at a B&B in Chattanooga when I was pregnant with my daughter in early 2013; I tried fried eggs with jiggly, runny yolks because chefs swore by them … also, they were there; I’ve been a runny egg nerd ever since)); while I loved Empire’s Eggs Benedict, next time I’ll try something seasonal.  Like many Southern chefs’ menus, Hugh’s also reflect what’s freshest and growing in the region.

His Cookbooks are Written in English

I’m being factious here as most cookbooks printed for an American audience are also in English; however, we all know that some cookbooks feature recipes so elaborate and ingredients so obscure that they’re completely inaccessible.

Hugh’s cookbooks features recipes, inspired ideas, and approaches to cooking Southern-style food that’s refreshing, fun, and possible for home chefs of most levels.  I also appreciate that Hugh’s voice is apparent in his cookbooks.  To date, Hugh has published three cookbooks:

A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen

50 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, and Fermented Snacks (I picked up a copy of this at Empire State South; it was signed, which featured a Hugh’s signature happy face, which has his Hugh-nibrow above the eyes.

The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits (This one is en route; I can’t wait to try pickled radishes (I’m currently obsessed with pickled onions with mustard seeds; they’re on all of my BBQ this summer)).

He’s Just a Really Nice Guy

We all know how some celebrities look nice on TV or they seem cool in interviews, but they’re really pompous in real life (let down!).  Hugh is a father of two adorably named daughters (Beatrice and Clementine (stop the cuteness)) and is a loving husband.  By all accounts, he’s a normal guy … who happens to be on television and is wildly successful.

Of course, if you know anything about the South, then you know that this blend of hardworking humility and unbridled success is what we’re all about.  So, though he was born in Canada, Hugh represents all of the wonderful things about the South, which is why he’s Georgia’s Golden Boy, through and through.

Looking for more delicious eats in the South? Check out these new outstanding restaurants below the Mason-Dixon line.

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