James Beard Award-Winning Southern Chef and TV personality, Hugh Acheson has a new taste in town in the form of his latest cookbook The Chef and the Slow Cooker. A foray back to the basics of cooking and filled with 100 inspired recipes, the cookbook reintroduces the familiar crock-pot. It hits bookstores on October 17th. North American Traveller chats with Acheson on food, globalism and more.
Hugh Acheson: Bringing Back the Slow Cooker
North American Traveller: Congratulations on the new cookbook The Chef and the Slow Cooker. It really showcases how to enjoy simple meals with a gourmet twist. Can you tell us a bit about what to anticipate?
Acheson: It’s built on the premise that most of us have a slow cooker somewhere in the closet and we’ve used it for maybe one pot roast and then forgot about it. It’s a really simple and great harnesser of time, but it’s also a gateway to cooking from scratch again, which is something missing from society. We just don’t take the time to cook from scratch anymore. But a slow cooker is great because once you turn it on you can back away from it, shop, go to work, and come back to a meal that is 75% done.
The Chef and The Slow Cooker really focuses on contemporizing the food to make it pertinent to today – like kimchi-braised chicken and beautiful West African catfish stew dishes. It is still the idea of slow cooking and primarily braising things, but it’s also about great diversions of artichokes and spring stews, and things like that, making it applicable to today.
NA Traveller: You lead a very busy life. You have four restaurants in Georgia; you’re a former Top Chef Judge and a cookbook author – all while raising a young family. What was the impetus behind this cookbook?
Acheson: I noticed people in my community that I live around needed a push back into the kitchen overall. My editor is a guy named Francis Lam; he is the host of “Splendid Table” and an amazing editor.
Francis and I were just talking about food overall as we do a lot. I make a lot of stocks (and always have) in slow cookers, because it’s a really great medium for creating a nice, full flavored stock. We started thinking if that’s the case and your using it frequently, why aren’t other people? It’s a good way of taking something that is simple and accessible and making it appealing to a much larger audience.
NA Traveller: Five & Ten was the first restaurant you opened in Athens, Georgia, back in 2000. You are known for your distinct Southern food with a unique flare. Had you always aspired to winning a James Beard Award and opening several restaurants?
Acheson: I never went through cooking school, but I did get trained in many great kitchens, and I have worked in restaurants since I was young in Ottawa, Canada. As a chef the dream is to open your own restaurant, and then expansion and stuff happens later on, but not at a rapid rate. We opened a new spot once every six years or so, that really was it. I like the idea of being a chef, a restaurateur, a businessperson and a writer (I wear many hats) but I have a really good team.
NA Traveller: You have been in the South for a couple of decades now. What are some of the changes you have really seen evolve in the food scene? What are people really responding to?
Acheson: I think palettes across North America have changed over the last twenty years, through the malaise of continental-traditional foods to evoking a sense of globalism. I think that now our palettes really yearn for that, and it’s interesting to see what diners really want. They want kimchi and fermented peppers and different emame flavors and things like that. It’s kind off harkening back to a respectful new fusion of globalism – not like the fusion in the eighties, which was wasabi mashed potatoes and crap like that. It changes but hopefully there is a new focus on treasuring and respecting food.
I think we went through a long period of not respecting food as much as we should have been. We have also learned a lot. I don’t think twenty years ago anyone really liked brussel sprouts, but now because of the technique and styles of cooking, we have made them crunchy and good, fried or quickly roasted or pan seared. It changed the game. It’s not just brussel sprouts; it’s all sorts of things like that.
NA Traveller: When you think about the kitchen are there any flavors or ingredients that you always like to incorporate?
Acheson: Aside from the basics of butter and chicken stock, I find myself using blonde miso in food. We use a lot of kimchis and fermented peppers. Really, it’s just getting out there and figuring out the flavors you want to focus on, but lot’s of herbs and lots of fresh mint are really good and versatile.