What’s the story on “Top Chef” host Hugh Acheson?
—Melissa Myers, Sewell, N.J.
The Ottawa, Canada-born and raised Acheson, 41, began his restaurant career at age 15 as a dishwasher at the Bank Street Café. He already knew at that young age that he wanted to make cooking his life’s work, so he dived in and began learning what he needed to know.
His parents divorced when he was young, and he lived with his father, a professor of economics at Carleton University, with the exception of two years that he spent with his mother and stepfather in Atlanta, Ga., and Clemson, S.C., where he met his future wife, Mary Koon.
After graduation from high school, Acheson moved to Montreal, where he and Koon reconnected and married. Then they returned to Ottawa, where Acheson worked under Chef Rob MacDonald, learning stylized French cuisine, wine and etiquette at Café Henri Burger.
Acheson continued to learn his craft in San Francisco, Calif., as the chef de cuisine with Chef Mike Fennelly at Mecca and later as sous-chef with famed Chef Gary Danko.
When the Achesons relocated to Georgia in the late 1990s so Koon could attend graduate school, Acheson took all his knowledge of European cooking and combined it with flavors from the South, opening the critically acclaimed Athens, Ga., restaurant Five & Ten in March of 2000. He followed that up seven years later with The National and the Atlanta-based Empire State South in 2010.
Acheson’s new approach to Southern cooking has not gone unnoticed. His awards include being named Food & Wine’s Best New Chef (2002), the “Atlanta Journal-Constitution” Restaurant of the Year (200
7), a 2007 Rising Star from StarChefs.com and winner of their Mentor Award in 2012. He is also a six-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef Southeast (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) and winner in 2012.
In addition to running three restaurants, competing in season three of Bravo’s “Top Chef: Masters” and currently serving as a judge on “Top Chef,” Acheson wrote a cookbook entitled “A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen.” The book won the James Beard Award for best American cookbook in 2012. A second cookbook is in the works for later this year.