Chef Hugh Acheson finds inspiration through food
You may know Chef Hugh Acheson as a wisecracking “Top Chef Masters” contestant, “Top Chef” judge, Liberté yogurt fan and spokesman, and a prolific writer.
But you may not know that he put down roots in Athens, Ga. by way of Ottawa, Canada.
Acheson visited General Mills headquarters Wednesday for another installment of our “Taste Talks” series.
“We want to bring in thought leaders for an external perspective into different areas of food trends and culture,” says Melissa Levy, a member of The Kitchens of General Mills food content marketing team. “Hugh has a background in Southern cuisine, which a lot of our brands are interested in and would love to gain more insight into.”
When he started working in restaurants at the age of 14, Acheson had no idea he’d become a Southern food “thought leader.”
He worked 40 hours a week as a dishwasher and fell in love with restaurant kitchens because they gave him a sense of place and meaning.
“I’m not self-taught, I was taught by a number of great chefs throughout the years who took time with a smart-ass kid,” Acheson told an auditorium of our employees.
He spent hours reading vintage Southern cookbooks and histories of the regional cuisine.
“The art of cooking was a skill, a trade. But it became my endless topic,” Acheson said.
When he moved to Athens and opened 5 & 10 restaurant in 2000, he literally opened the back door of the restaurant and told the locals: “Bring me what you’ve got.”
“They didn’t know who I was, they just saw this young, weird Canadian kid with one eyebrow who wants to buy stuff,” he said.
But they all took a chance and together, they learned the community of food that existed around them.
Acheson is inspired by the wealth of local food from sorghum to grits to hams, and turns Southern food on its head with French technique – but keeps it authentic and seasonal above all.
Some of the food trends he predicts you’ll see on your weeknight table include pickles, fermented foods like kimchi, drinking vinegars and anything easily spreadable like hummus.
In fact, at a reception following his talk, in The Kitchens of General Mills, Acheson demonstrated how to make his boiled peanut hummus with boiled (green) peanuts, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, cayenne, olive oil and salt. A spread that was creamy and subtle with just a hint of spice and peanut.
The recipe is featured in his award-winning cookbook, A New Turn In The South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen.
You can find your own inspiration from Hugh Acheson’s food to share with friends and family.