You may know Chef Hugh Acheson from watching him judge on Bravo’s Top Chef, reading one of his award winning cookbooks, or eating at one of his four hit restaurants. He is quite the character, and his love for quality techniques and ingredients is evident in all that he pursues. We were invited to accompany The Wyld Dock Bar crew at Chef Hugh’s local Savannah restaurant, The Florence, for a private cooking class. Here are the top 10 lessons that I learned from Chef Hugh:
1. “I think people are either looking for really massive flavor bomb things or they’re looking for technical skill, prowess, and clean flavors: the idea of taking something pure and simple and really making it shine.”
The more I learn with The Foodie Feature encountering restaurateurs and chefs; the more I value the combination of technique, flavor, and ingredients. The meals that I remember are usually the most simple ingredients coming together to create spectacular bites.
2. Maple syrup, greek yogurt, toasted pecans, and carrots taste amazing together!
The carrot soup combined flavors that I would have A. never thought to merge and B. never thought would be delectable! We all were enamored with the presentation, but we all exclaimed with delight as soon as it hit our tongues. Seriously… It was bomb!
3. Be serious when it comes to technique and precision but have fun at the same time!
I cannot begin to tell you how many times Chef Hugh had us rolling with laughter! I’ve found that many of the chefs I meet have a great sense of humor. At the end of the day, he was all jokes aside when it came to his ingredients and techniques.
4. “The best thing you should probably all have at your stations is an Aztec bowl scraper…It’s a great way of cleaning up your station and getting stuff from there and into the pot without using a knife edge.”
I’ve linked to one for you here.
5. “Don’t be afraid of cooking risotto. You don’t need to stir all of the time if you’ve got your temperature right, but every thirty seconds to a minute is probably smart. Anything more and you’re going to burn the bottom of it.”
The risotto was delicious as you can see. I’ve always been intimidated by it myself (if you watch Chopped, you understand why), but Chef Hugh’s approach made it more likely for me to make at home. Plus eating it among amazing people doesn’t hurt either!
6. “The clientele understands more about food now than we ever give them credit for.”
Woo hoo for foodies who know a little somethin’ about food! When he said this, I was so happy. “Foodie” commonly has a negative connotation within the restaurant industry, because some people like to criticize when they couldn’t execute a meal themselves. We are changing the way people see “foodies” by fostering a positive relationship between the industry and people who just love food!
7. Really great ingredients cooked really well trump excessive amounts of salt or sugar any day.
Have you ever tasted seasonal vegetables that were harvested and prepared the same day? Or eaten fish that was swimming in a local river only hours before being cooked? Once you do, everything else tastes a little more dull and you can’t wait to experience that again.
8. “If you want to be in this industry for a long time, you’ve got to eat out. You’ve got to go places. You don’t spend a bunch of money. You’ve just got to go find stuff and learn from restaurants that suck.”
Here’s another tip for everyday life. Why not learn from other’s mistakes? That’s the point of learning and sharing experiences. How will you ever continue to grow if you aren’t a perpetual learner and seek out new things?
9. “You can all do your dream, but you have to make money in this industry. The proudest moment on my tombstone is not that I’m making money in it. It’s that I am a gainful employer of 240 people, but I can’t do that unless we all play the numbers game.”
This stood out to me as a tip that anyone can relate to in business. Of course, we should all pursue what we truly love to do in life. The fact is that we must make money to sustain that dream. Spoken like a true entrepreneur, Chef Hugh!
10. Knowing the source of ingredients and how to tell fresh from not is essential.
The farm-to-table and organic movements are causes that Chef Hugh advocates. He dropped tidbits throughout the class on the quality of everything that he cooked with. From knowing how fresh asparagus is by looking at how tight the crown is to paying attention to where the cheese is sourced. Check out his non-profit Home Ec. Initiative that revamps the traditional high school course into a tool that kids use to tell quality for themselves. Here’s a great article that elaborates on his mission.
*Bonus Tip: We have to appreciate the time and effort that goes into the final product that ends up on our plate.
One thing that all of the chefs are adamant about is changing how we as patrons will expect a whole lot for a lot less. Let’s say you go to a restaurant that serves pizza. The 12 in pizza is $18+ in price. Most people would say that is a little steep for something that at Domino’s would cost $5.99. What we have to start realizing is that the two are incomparable. At the restaurant, they prepare the dough by hand two days before, they use premium cheeses, prep the toppings in house, sprinkle shaved black truffle, make their own sauce using local ingredients, and bake it in a brick oven. I’d gladly pay the price knowing that what I taste at the restaurant is something that Domino’s will never achieve. (Sorry, Domino’s.)
This is what The Foodie Feature is here to do. We’re exposing the nuances of the restaurant industry to everyday people, so that we can change a convenience culture to one that appreciates what goes on behind the scenes. Check out our Features section to learn more about Savannah’s restaurants and chefs!