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in the kitchen with: hugh acheson’s southern supper

by Kristina Gill

After reader’s response to last week’s traditional Southern recipe with Top Chef favorite Kevin Gillespie, Grace and I could not resist offering a complete Southern meal to you.  This week’s menu comes from Athens, Georgia-based chef Hugh Acheson.  We were very lucky that photographer Rinne Allen reached out to us to offer to photograph the entire festivity so not only do you have three recipes (for fried chicken, cornbread, and Chess pies), but you have lovely photography to make you feel as though you were actually there.   Hugh transmits such familiarity and enthusiasm for his style of food and the pure enjoyment of eating, I so look forward to his book coming out next year   -Kristina

About Hugh: Hugh Acheson is the chef/partner of Five & Ten, the National, Gosford Wine and Empire State South (opening August 2010).  Born and raised in Ottawa, Canada he started cooking at a young age and decided to make it his career after taking a very long time to realize that academics weren’t his thing. At age 15, he began working in restaurants after school and learning as much as possible. Acheson’s experience includes working under Chef Rob MacDonald where he learned stylized French cuisine, wine and etiquette at the renowned Henri Burger restaurant in Ottawa.  He also worked in San Francisco as the chef de cuisine with Chef Mike Fennelly at Mecca, and later as opening sous-chef with famed Chef Gary Danko at his namesake restaurant, where he found a love of the simple, pure and disciplined.

CLICK HERE for all three recipes, more beautiful photos and more about Hugh after the jump!

Taking these experiences,  Hugh developed a style of his own forging together the beauty of the South with the flavors of Europe and opening the critically acclaimed Athens, GA restaurant Five & Ten in March of 2000.

Since 2000, Hugh has gone on to open Gosford Wine in 2004 with sommelier Ben Giacchino, The National in 2007 with fellow chef Peter Dale, and will open an Atlanta based restaurant, named Empire State South in the summer of 2010.

Acheson’s fresh approach to Southern food has earned him a great deal of recognition including Food & Wine’s Best New Chef (2002), the AJC Restaurant of the Year (2007), a four time James Beard nominee for Best Chef Southeast (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) and a 2007 Rising Star from StarChefs.com. Chef Mario Batali chose Hugh as one of the 100 contemporary chefs in Phaidon Press’ Coco: 10 World Leading Master Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs.

In addition to running two restaurants, a wine shop, and opening a new restaurant Hugh is writing a cookbook titled A New Turn in the South: The Cuisine of Hugh Acheson. This book is to be published by Clarkson Potter in the fall 0f 2011.

But that is to everyone outside of Athens.  To Athens he is a guy who owns those restaurants, has one eyebrow, a wife far better looking than he is and two young children who are the apple of his eye.

For this summer supper, set outside in the garden next to Rebecca Woods’ Idea Shack, Hugh and wine director Steven Grubbs paired their menu with a selection of chilled Rieslings that perfectly suited the warmth (= humidity) of the June evening.

Fried Chicken Thighs over Stewed Pickled Tomatoes

Serves Four

4 Chicken Thighs
1 cup Buttermilk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch Cayenne
Pinch of Dried Mustard Powder
1 cup Flour
1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter
1 tablespoon minced Shallot
1 cup chopped ripe Red Heirloom Tomatoes
1 cup chopped Pickled Green Tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon chopped Serrano Chile
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Mint
1 tablespoon chopped Flatleaf Parsley
1 tablespoon Chicken Stock

Place chicken and buttermilk in a ziplock bag and seal tightly. Let sit in the fridge for 2 to 24 hours.
Place a large cast iron skillet on medium high heat and add enough shortening to have one inch of depth. Bring the shortening to 325°F and hold it at that temperature.
Combine the salt, cayenne and mustard powder in a small bowl and mix with a fork to combine. Remove chicken from bag and place in a colander over the sink. Discard bag and buttermilk. Place chicken on a sheet pan and dust evenly with the salt mixture.
Place the flour in a large paper shopping bag and then add the chicken. Fold over the top of the bag and Shake well to coat the chicken with the flour. Remove the chicken from the bag, shake off excess flour and set on a clean sheet pan.
Carefully place the chicken, skin side down, into the hot shortening. Cook for ten minutes and then turn over and cook for another ten minutes, holding the temperature at 325°F as consistently as possible.  Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a cooling rack to drain any excess oil.
Melt the butter in a medium sized stainless steel frypan over medium high heat. Add the shallot and cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the red tomatoes and green tomatoes and cook for seven minutes. Add the serrano chile, mint, parsley and the stock and cook for another three minutes. Remove from heat.
Place a 1/2 cup of the tomatoes on each plate and then place a chicken thigh on each pile. Eat.

Serves 10-12

Note from Hugh:  I don’t like sugar in my cornbread. That’s for sissies.

2 cups White Cornmeal
1/2 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
3/4 cup Whole Milk
3/4 cup Buttermilk
1 large Egg
1/4 cup Bacon Fat
Preheat oven to 425° F
In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a separate bowl mix together the milk, buttermilk, and egg. Add this wet mix to the large bowl with the dry mixture. Stir well to combine.
Heat a 10 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat and add the bacon fat. When the fat and the pan are hot, add the hot fat to the batter and stir. Add batter to cast-iron skillet and place the skillet  in oven. Bake for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, let cool in the cast-iron skillet. Once slightly cooled, and turn the cornbread over onto a cutting board. Let cool. Slice into 10-12 slices.

Individual Lemon Chess Pies with Blackberry Ice Cream
by Shae Rehmel. Five & Ten

Makes 8 small pies

With this recipe, it may be easiest to make the dough and ice cream ahead of time to make sure that the pies are hot and the ice cream is nice and cold.

Pie Dough
3 cups     All Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Salt
2 sticks Butter (cut into small pieces and cold)
¼- ½ cup Ice Water
8 four-inch tartlet molds

Mix flour and salt together in a bowl and set aside. Cut the butter into small cubes and place in the fridge to stay cold
Put the dry ingredients in food processor and place butter on top. Mix until the butter is pea size and the mixture has a cornmeal consistency.
Mix water and ice together and then measure up the ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon. Add water to the food processor while on and let the dough come together . When it just comes together turn off and empty into a bowl. Give dough a couple of kneads to bring it together. Allow to rest for at least one hour or make a day ahead
Roll the dough out into ¼ inch thick and cut rounds with a 6-inch diameter for your 4-inch tartlet molds. Fill shells with dough, cut off an excess from the sides and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 370°F
Cut pieces of aluminum foil to cover each tartlet mold and delicately press into the shells . Fill with baking weights or beans and place on the middle rack in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes.  Take tartlets out, remove pie weights and the foil, bake for another 8-10 minutes more, or until the edges are golden and the bottom of the crust is dry.

Make Filling.

1 ¾  cups Sugar
3 tablespoons Lemon zest
1 stick Butter (soft)
Pinch  Salt
5 Eggs
1/4 cup Corn syrup
1 cup     Milk
1 tablespoon Cornmeal
2 tablespoons All Purpose Flour
¼  cup    freshly squeezed Lemon Juice

Reduce heat in oven to 330°F
In a food processor, grind the sugar with lemon zest
In a large bowl beat the butter and the sugar and lemon zest mixture until well blended. Add the eggs and corn syrup. Add the milk. Add the cornmeal and flour. Add the lemon juice
Fill cooled prebaked shells with lemon filling and bake in the oven  for 10 minutes. Rotate pies and continue baking until filling is set and top is slightly golden

Blackberry Ice Cream
2 cups     Milk
¾ cup    Heavy Cream
Pinch     Salt
¼ each Vanilla bean
3 Egg yolks
½ cup + 2 tablespoons Sugar

In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until pale, about a minute or two.
In a small saucepan over medium- low heat, scald the milk, cream, salt, and vanilla. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Once slightly cooled, slowly add the milk mixture to the yolks by drizzling the hot liquid into the egg yolk and sugar mixture while whisking. Mix in the entire warm liquid  and then pour the mixture into a pot over medium heat. Over medium heat stir the mixture constantly until thickened to coat spoon. Once thickened, remove from heat.  Chill.
Pour chilled mixture into an ice cream maker. Spin and freeze mixture according to ice cream maker manufacturer instructions.

Make Blackberry compote

Blackberry Compote
½ cup Sugar
¼ cup    Sweet White Dessert Wine (moscato d’asti)
Pinch Salt
Pinch Cinnamon
3 Cups     Blackberries

In a small saucepan, bring the first 4 ingredients to a simmer on the stove top and allow to simmer for 2 minutes. Add blackberries and allow to cook while stirring for 1 min. Turn off heat and pour into clean bowl and chill.
Fold into spun Ice Cream.

Spoon ice cream on top on individual chess pies and enjoy!

[Credits: Food by Hugh Acheson; Wine pairings by Steven Grubbs; Ceramics by r.wood studio; Photographs by Rinne Allen; Styling by field trip and beautyeveryday]

Why Hugh chose these recipes:

The menu was really put together to match with Riesling, which we adore. It was also hot as hell that day so we needed something pretty refreshing and not too rich.  The chicken thighs with pickled green tomatoes and stewed red tomatoes was something really meant for the wine. Wine nerds always think Champagne or Rose with fried chicken but the Rieslings were fantastic. The stewed pickle part was kind of an ode to my summer quest to cook with a bunch of pickles… not common but really great! It’s also crazy tomato time here so we had to work them in somehow.  The cornbread is kind of a staple of the outdoor meal and works with everything.  Not revelatory but damn fine eating.  The chess pie is a staple. Thought to be some mis-pronunciation of “Chest Pie”, like a pie in the pie cupboard, its a timelessly simple dessert that can play round with many garnishes, in this case blackberries.

For Hugh’s recipe for Georgia shrimp rolls from this supper and more background about the event, visit beautyeveryday.

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  • what a pleasant surprise to see this feature! the national holds a special place in my heart as b and i had our first date there, he asked me to marry right after dinner at the same restaurant and we’ll be eating there after our little wedding in a month! hugh has done an amazing job bringing great food to athens :)

  • Looks amazing! I will bw making this whole menu. Also I hope Mr.B. doesn’t mind if I say that Hugh makes a fine veranda decoration.

  • I love that Coke bucket, used to cool the wine! I wonder where one can purchase a bin like that? It’s so much more kitschy than a big plastic cooler! Thanks for the recipes!

  • This is a perfect Summer menu! I am especially drawn to the Lemon Chess Pies. Lemon and blackberry go so well together!

    I’ll have to say that I am also enjoying the photography. I want to be at that party.


  • Scrumptious-looking! I also have to admit that Hugh’s unibrow drew me to this article.

  • Glad I didn’t inherit the monobrow, but proud of my brother and (uncredited, but definitely better looking, sister in law) He does make the best food you’ll ever eat, every time.

  • I absolutely adore cornbread – but I live in Israel and bacon fat is simply something unavailable here. (We do have bacon – but it’s completely vile – seriously.)

    What would you recommend for a substitute?



  • The wines were an array of some the best Rieslings out there, mostly German and Austrian; a pretty even mix of both dry and fruity (well, sweet) styles.

    We started with a cocktail of Schloss Gobelsburg’s NV Brut Reserve (a dry sparkling riesling blend from Austria) mixed Dolin Vermouth de Chambery Blanc, served on ice with a slice of Georgia Peach. After that (to go with the beet bundles), we had three powerful dry wines:

    Rebholz, ‘Ganz Horn’ Riesling, Grosses Gewachs, Pfalz, Germany, 2008

    Nikolaihof, Riesling Vom Stein ‘Smaragd’, Wachau, Austria, 2007

    Hiedler, ‘Maximum’ Riesling, Kamptal, Austria, 2007

    Then with the chicken thighs, a pair of gorgeous off-dry ones (it’s more natural to move up in sweetness rather than down; otherwise the dry wines might taste very acidic and harsh):

    Karthäuserhof, Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Kabinett Feinherb, Ruwer, Germany, 2009

    Leitz, Rüdesheimer Berg Kaisersteinfels Riesling “Alte Reben”, Rheingau, Germany, 2009

    Then for the pork we had two very good fruity Kabinett-styles. The Adam may have been wine of the night:

    A.J. Adam, Dhron Hofberg Kabinett, Mosel, Germany, 2009

    von Othengraven, Kanzem Altenberg Kabinett, Saar, Germany, 2009

    With the cheese we poured two Spatlese wines:

    Schäfer-Fröhlich, Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Spätlese, Nahe, Germany, 2008

    Dr. F. Weins-Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese, Mosel,Germany, 2009

    And then for dessert, an Auslese from the big boy, the baddest man on the Riesling planet, Helmut Donnhoff:

    Dönnhoff, Schlossbockelheimer Kupfergrube Riesling Auslese, Nahe, Germany, 2006

  • @ Shira: For a bacon fat substitute you could use lard, ghee, or just regular vegetable oil. It will lack a certain smokiness but it’ll work.

  • Hi, Hugh- greetings from one of the northern cousins! It all looks beautiful and delicious- congratulations on all your busy undertakings.

  • That’s a fine lookin’ man on that porch. The menu is perfect. I want a little chess pie. I miss Athens, GA!

  • Just moved away from Athens last week…sure makes me homesick! Beautiful pictures, can’t wait to make the meal!

  • Just made the fried chicken…its perfectly delicious, my hubby loved it.
    This is going to the list of my favorite recipies..ever. Thanks Hugh!

  • Beautiful and so inviting! Still another time to say “we are so proud of you”! Everything you touch turns to gold. We look forward to having this book in our possession. Barbara and Sid

  • I’m reading this post in my bed in Brazil! It almost brouht tears to my eyes! As a former Chef myself, i have catered so many parties and produced indefinite photoshoots about them here, including a weekly food insert on a high circulation periodical (900,000 issues/week), i am touched by every single thing in this article! From the place where it’s been taken place, Savannah (i wish i could live there!), to the food, the happy feeling, the GREAT atmosphere, the light…perfection! CONGRATULATIONS to the Chef, and everyone involved in producing this article. You have totally acheived your goal.

  • Tomaz, the settings is 20 miles south of Athens, Ga. on a piece of property inhabited by the same American family for over 200 years. Only recently it was bought by someone who loves the property and wishes to see the best of Southern food and culture continue to thrive.
    Viva la Hugh!!!! and his staff

  • Thanks, Hugh, for not adding sugar to the cornbread. I don’t know where/when that addition got started. My grandfather ran a corn mill (WNC) and fresh, hot cornbread was on the table every day–sans sugar. My mother could tell upon first bite whether sugar had been added. Over the years, her preference became a big pone of Mexican Corn Bread.

  • I love that more people were focused on how handsome they find Hugh than they were on the food. Maybe it is the twinkle in his eye?

    This thread has to be one of my all time favorites.

  • Note to Hugh: Bravo on the sugar in cornbread is for sissies. Ditto for hushpuppies. Also they should have onion and should NOT have green peppers.