state of the art: hugh acheson - chef / restaurateur / writer
“Success lies in how good you feel about the job you're doing... real, true satisfaction in your job comes from you and not necessarily from the reviews you get or the awards you win.”
Hugh Acheson in a renowned celebrity chef residing in Athens, GA, whose day to day is always different and changing.
Not only does Hugh run four successful restaurants and a coffees shop, he is a judge on the TV show "Top Chef", a U.S. delegate for food to countries all around the world, a writer of several books, a speaker, he makes public appearances, and he is a family man.
Hugh got his start in the industry when he was fifteen. Back then it wasn’t all glamorous, he had to work his way up from humble dishwasher beginnings.
“At first it was an after school job and then turned full time. I came from a very academic family and I was always kind of the black sheep that wasn’t good in academics. So it was always a way of paying the bills and developing a trade I could fall back on. Then it became the thing that I was best at and brought me enjoyment."
I figured out at a pretty young age that it (food) was a never ending topic and that I could pretty much learn about it everyday and be happy and be energized by it. That’s true to this day.”
I asked Hugh if he remembered the age or the moment that he realized this is what he wanted to do with his life and his response was hilariously authentic:
“I don’t think it was that romantic. It was probably when I dropped out of university and realized that I had to do something. Yeah, but I was also pretty good at it. I had a good concept of leadership and how to get people going. I was driven and still am, to do it and to do it right, so that immediately puts you in a different sphere of a lot of people who do this sort of thing everyday."
“My favorite part of the job is leading people and leading my own crew and having them be on the same page of what we are after. And to really identify what the abstract notion of what hospitality is. I think that’s kind of what I’m best at, is getting my crew on the same page for the job each day.”
Between work, travel, and being a dad, Hugh’s free time is often few and far between. When he does get a moment his favorite thing to do is just to hang out with his kids and if he gets a moment to himself while traveling he will go find a local museum or a good coffee shop and use the opportunity to read or write. Today most of his inspiration comes from those very things.
He finds inspiration by, “Reading a lot, reading about cookbooks, reading different people's cookbooks, and reading menus. Traveling and seeing the way the world works with food, what’s current and interesting. So just keeping a grasp of the pulse of America and how they react to food and what they want from hospitality. And that drives me everyday, and looking at a lot of historical cookbooks and stuff like that makes me excited. To look at food from that vantage point. That it’s a really neat subject that goes back a long way but that we can still make current”.
Hugh has also been encouraged by those around him.
“A mentor of mine, a big southern chef in Birmingham Alabama named Frank Stitt, he once wrote me a letter that said I was one of the futures of southern foods and that kind of resounded with me for a long time. So there is always analysis from your peers that makes you feel really good and your mentors, and winning awards Is always a nice thing… they are often payback for actual years of working a hundred hours a week. There’s been lots of feedback over the years that has been very resounding with me. It’s good feedback with feeling personally satisfied with what you're doing."
While reviews and awards have been good feedback for Hugh, he stresses the importance to other chefs that it's really not about that at all:
“Success lies in how good you feel about the job you're doing, winning awards and being on TV have a lot more to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time. The real true satisfaction in your job comes from you and not necessarily from reviews you get or awards you win. Because in my field 1% of us will get what we are due and the other 99% are due a lot of respect and a lot of accolades and just never get noticed."