Chef Hugh Acheson
Five and Ten |Athens
A self-taught chef who studied political philosophy in college,
Hugh Acheson started his culinary career as a dishwasher and line
cook in his hometown of Ottawa, Canada, eventually moving up the
ranks to work with Chef Rob MacDonald at Henri Burger, a
famous traditional French restaurant in Ottawa. He then spent time
working with Mike Fennelly at Mecca in San Francisco and
served as opening sous-chef with Gary Danko at Danko.
In 2002 Acheson opened Five and Ten in his wife’s
hometown of Athens, GA. His menu changes every day, and draws from
the region’s culinary traditions and variety of produce; according
to Acheson, Athens has a great food history and a large local vernacular
to pull from, plus a growing local farming community.
Acheson was recognized in Food and Wine’s 2002 “Best New Chef” awards, and is undoubtedly one of the most exciting names in modern Southern cuisine. He recently opened his own wine shop with sommelier Ben Giacchino, and a new 40-seat, casual restaurant called The National in the front of an art house cinema in the heart of Athens.
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AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
HA: I worked at Henri Berger, an old-school French place in Quebec, and Mecca and Gary Danko in San Francisco. My wife is from here – that’s how I ended up in Athens. I opened Five and Ten seven years ago on a budget of less than $200,000.
AB: Who are some of your mentors?
HA: I owe my foundation to Rob McDonald, who was the executive chef at Henri Berger while I was there. He taught me butchery, stock-making, everything. He also taught me to never take shortcuts.
AB: In which kitchens have you staged?
HA: I've staged at Babbo
in New York City.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
HA: “Where do you see yourself in three years?” I’m looking for long-term dedication to the industry, not someone who’s in the middle of a passing fad.
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
HA: Know the history of food, and know what you’re talking about, in general.
AB: Is there an ingredient you feel is particularly underappreciated or underutilized?
HA: Catfish! And okra. People eat them a lot, but they’re so rarely done well.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
HA: I like hot and sweet – like cayenne and mango in a sorbet – and nuts and acid, like lemon juice and walnuts.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
HA: The French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney
AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel?
HA: The Pyrenees.
AB: What are your favorite restaurant – off the beaten path – in your city?
HA: Eigensenn Farm, Northeast of Toronto. In Georgia: Haru-Ichiban for light salads, matsutake soup and sushi, particularly the toro, and Co’m Vietnamese Grill on Buford Highway.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
HA: The revival of Southern food. The Southern Foodways Alliance plays a very important role in that – what they do is invaluable in preserving Southern culture.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
HA: I want to run a restaurant that people can come to 4 nights a week.
AB: Which person in history
would you most like to have dinner with?
HA: Mark Twain.
AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
HA: I’d be an academic.
AB: What does success mean for you? What will it look like for you?
HA: I want to write cookbooks. And I just opened a new 40-seat restaurant in the front of a new art house cinema in town.
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