Photography by Rinne Allen
Foreword by Bertis Downs
When Hugh Acheson, a chef from Ottawa, settled in Georgia, who knew that he would woo his adopted home state and they would embrace him as one of their own?
In 2000, following French culinary training on both coasts, Hugh opened Five and Ten in Athens, a college town known for R.E.M., and the restaurant became a spotlight for his exciting interpretation of traditional Southern fare. Five and Ten became a favorite local haunt as well as a destination—Food & Wine named Hugh a “Best New Chef” and at seventy miles away, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution named Five and Ten the best restaurant in Atlanta. Then came the five consecutive James Beard nominations.
Now, after opening two more restaurants and a wine shop, Hugh is ready to share 120 recipes of his eclectic, bold, and sophisticated flavors, inspired by fresh ingredients. In A New Turn in the South, you’ll find libations, seasonal vegetables that take a prominent role, salads and soups, his prized sides, and fish and meats—all of which turn Southern food on its head every step of the way. Hugh’s recipes include: Oysters on the Half Shell with Cane Vinegar and Chopped Mint Sauce, shucked and left in their bottom shells; Chanterelles on Toast with Mushrooms that soak up the flavor of rosemary, thyme, and lemon; Braised and Crisped Pork Belly with Citrus Salad—succulent and inexpensive, but lavish; Yellow Grits with Sautéed Shiitakes, Fried Eggs, and Salsa Rossa—a stunning versatile condiment; Fried Chicken with Stewed Pickled Green Tomatoes—his daughters’ favorite dish; and Lemon Chess Pies with Blackberry Compote—his go-to classic Southern pie with seasonal accompaniment.
Award wining chef, restaurateur, Top Chef Judge, and transplanted Canadian Hugh Acheson talks to us about his book. Which was recently named by the James Beard Foundation as ‘Best Cookbook in the field of “American Cooking”’.
How does a guy from Ottawa wind up in Georgia cooking Southern food?
My wife is from the South so we moved here, but I have grown to really love the pace of life, the traditions, and the truly great people who live here.
Can you tell us a little about the writing process that you went through with the book? Was it a challenge to get you point of view or philosophy across?
My creative process is really all about getting in the kitchen with fresh, local ingredients and putting them to work. I don’t always know exactly how a dish will be finished, but it all comes together in the end. If you have good technique and great, seasonal ingredients, it’s hard to mess it up. But, for this book, I wanted to showcase the true beauty of Southern food and our agrarian roots. Southern produce and products, when allowed to shine, really do become healthy and tasty vittles.
Southern food is steeped in tradition. Yet given it’s often eclectic and diverse origins is Southern food a cuisine the lends itself well to new interpretations and ingredients?
Absolutely! A good chef can take any food tradition from any part of the world and reinterpret something new and great.
For me, it’s less about new ingredients and more about bringing back some of our quality but forgotten heirloom products.
Is there one, or more misconceptions about southern food that you would like to clear up?
There is no universal “Southern Food.” Sure, there are Southern favorites – fried chicken, BBQ, cornbread, grits, but everybody does their favorite differently. And, yeah, everybody’s grandma makes the best version.
That it’s unhealthy! It’s all about honoring the produce. We have a fantastic agrarian society in the South and we need to use it!
Did you have an ‘a-ha’ monument when you knew that this was the food that you wanted to make?
Not really. I was just lucky that it became my home. But where ever I live I want to use the local, seasonal food.
A new book! It’s pretty veggi-centric and all about how to use the produce from your farmers’ market or CSA box.
“Hugh is one of the small handful of truly great chefs working in the South today who understands the importance of building and maintaining a bridge between tradition and innovation. His dishes may seem a bit like R.E.M. songs in that they are thoughtful, geo-specific, crafty, smart, and all about pure pleasure. But the dishes, both new and old, all whistle Dixie in a way that honors the true magnificence of the last real regional cooking in the United States. A random selection of any twelve recipes in this book, from cocktails to mains, sides, and all the way to desserts, could easily make up a greatest hits of a fine chef. This book is simply a perfect way to understand and to make delicious and simple American food, refracted through the spectacular prism of the modern South. Hugh is a modern master and one of my heroes.”
“It’s rare to find a chef’s cuisine and his place—Athens, GA—so in step with each other: unmistakably Southern and yet unlike anywhere else in the South. That A New Turn in the South brings Hugh’s extraordinary kitchen sorcery into our home kitchen is nothing short of a miracle!”
—MATT AND TED LEE
“Hugh shares his love for his adopted homeland in heartfelt stories and odes to favored ingredients. This beautifully designed book lives up to its name with new turns on classics and inventive riffs on regional favorites. It will have readers swooning and cooks inspired for years.”
“I love the way Hugh has articulated his South, which is all about the simple, tasty, friendly treasures in life, of a people and their culture. A beautiful book!”
“Hugh is one of the smartest and best cooks I know. I would happily eat his food every day.”
“A New Turn in the South will bring Hugh’s smart, delicious cooking and love of seasonal ingredients to any kitchen.”
“I love Hugh’s book because it shows that Southern food has evolved beyond the expected, into a new Southern food—embracing cultures from around the globe while staying true to the ingredients at the root of Southern cooking.”
“Hugh is an eloquent, intellectual spirit who cares deeply for food and its impact on a community. He combines classic French technique with a Southern sense of place, using unique Southern ingredients in a fresh, innovative style.
Medjool Dates Stuffed with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Celery
This snackie takes the richness of the dates and counters it with the sharpness of Parmigiano-Reggiano and the crunch of celery. It’s a great match as the sweetness finds a nice savory foil to dance with. A little date goes a long way though, so think accordingly.
This is not the time to go cheap on the Parmigiano. True Parmigiano-Reggiano is a testament to the old guard. Rules regarding its production have not changed nor economized through technology. The results are a hard cow’s milk cheese, unpasteurized, aged for at least 18 and up to 48 months. Most grocery stores have decent Parmigiano nowadays but for the really great ones, find a cheese monger, a great Italian food shop, or go online to Murray’s Cheese or Cow Girl Creamery. It costs money but great Parmigiano is worth every penny and keeps for a number of months in your fridge.
8 medjool dates
1 stalk celery
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley
Pinch of sea salt
2-ounce piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 teaspoon good balsamic vinegar
Carefully slit, lengthwise, each date. Pull out the pits and discard. Using your fingers like you are opening a book, open the date a little to create a space for the filling.
Peel the celery with a sharp peeler. Discard the stringy peelings and then cut the celery into thin bias cuts about 1/4-inch thick and 1-inch long. Place the celery in a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the lemon juice, parsley, and salt. Toss well and add the Parmigiano.
Grab about 1 1/2 tablespoon of the stuffing between your thumb and forefinger and place a date in your other hand, with the open area facing out. Place the stuffing in the date and gently close your hand around the fruit to secure the filling. Place the stuffed dates on a platter and drizzle with a touch of balsamic vinegar and the remaining olive oil.
Place on a small platter and serve.
Reprinted from A NEW TURN IN THE SOUTH: SOUTHERN FLAVORS REINVENTED FOR YOUR KITCHEN by HUGH ACHESON. Copyright © 2011 by HUGH ACHESON. Photographs copyright © 2011 by RINNE ALLEN. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.”