Originally hailing from Ottawa, Canada, Hugh got his start in the restaurant business as a dishwasher at the age of fifteen. Eventually, he moved to Montreal for college but couldn’t resist the siren call of the chef’s coat. In 1994, he returned to Ottowa and worked under chef Rob Mcdonald of Café Henry Burger fame. Here he gained a wealth of knowledge on French cuisine and the ins and outs of fine-dining.
Following his tenure at Café Henry Burger, Hugh expanded his resume by becoming the chef de cuisine at Chef Mike Fennelly’s restaurant, Mecca, in San Francisco before moving on to a gig as the opening sous chef at Chef Gary Danko’s eponymous Michelin starred restaurant. Hot off the heels of these accomplishments, Hugh moved to Athens, GA to start his first restaurant, 5&10. Here, his simple, disciplined style and unique interpretation of Southern food (often considered to be an amalgamation of Southern, Italian, and French cuisine) quickly garnered him a heady reputation.
After opening 5&10 in 2000, Hugh slowly began to expand his restaurant empire, resulting in a collection of different cuisines, vibes, and communities. The National, another Athens outpost, was the next to come, and has been satisfying locals with its Mediterranean influenced cuisine for over a decade. Eventually, Atlanta wanted a piece of the action. In 2010, Empire State South opened, pairing a comprehensive food and wine program with a stylish, fully modern ambiance. Five years later, the newest kid on the block arrived. Born out of America’s renewed interest in craft coffee and killer brunch, Spiller Park Coffee has now expanded to two different locations. Though each restaurant is wholly unique, they all share the “Hugh Acheson” stamp; every single one is clean, creative, and perfectly executed.
Despite balancing this busy schedule, Hugh still found time to become a celebrity in his own right. In 2010, he competed in the third season of Top Chef Masters. Though he didn’t claim the top prize, he was invited to become a judge on Top Chef in season 9. A quick fan favorite, Hugh continued his residency on the show, serving as a judge through season 13 and hosting the Bravo Network’s complimentary online show Battle of the Sous Chefs. These programs expanded Hugh’s reputation throughout the country, all while he was serving some of the best culinary zingers this side of Gordon Ramsay.
Luckily for all foodies who can’t make it to Georgia, Hugh has written multiple cookbooks for posterity. His first book, 2011’s A New Turn In The South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen, earned him the James Beard award for “Best Cookbook in American Cooking.” The following year, he nabbed a second one, earning the title of “Best Chef Southeast.” Not one to settle, Hugh published three more cookbooks on a variety of different topics and techniques, including pickling, slow cooking, and seasonal produce. Respectively titled Pick a Pickle: 50 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, and Fermented Snacks, The Chef and The Slow Cooker, and The Broad Fork: Recipes for The Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits, each book is an excellent resource for the personal or professional chef.
His desire to teach isn’t limited to adults however; Hugh is also the founder of the “Seed Life Skills” program, which seeks to better home economics programs in middle schools. The program empowers middle-school students by teaching them how to cook for themselves, therefore setting them up to make healthy, budget-conscious choices during their college years. “I want to give kids retainable knowledge that can help get them over later hurdles in life” says Hugh. “I want them to be able to say three magic words; ‘I got this’.”
A Fresh Future
Nowadays, Hugh continues his quest to innovate and educate on a day-to-day basis. In February 2019, he launched the inaugural episode of his podcast “Hugh Acheson Stirs The Pot” with a conversation between himself and fellow Top Chef Judge Tom Colicchio. On top of that, he has two more cookbooks in the works; one that’s entirely dedicated to sous vide cooking and another that’s geared towards teaching kids how to cook! Chef Hugh Acheson stays busy, but honestly, why would we expect anything else?