Mad About Hugh

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Celebrated chef Hugh Acheson makes his move on Savannah.

Award-winning chef and cookbook author Hugh Acheson extends his culinary reach all the way to the Georgia coast.  Amy Paige Condon puts out the welcome (place)mat.

When I spoke with Chef Hugh Acheson, he had just returned from New Orleans where he was taping the 11th season of Bravo’s Top Chef.  He also was finalizing the details for his latest venture, an Italian-inspired restaurant, Florence, right here in Savannah—slated to open at Victory Drive and Whitaker Street in One West Victory next year.  Fortunately, Hugh will be in the Hostess City even sooner, when he headlines the Celebrity Chef Tour at the inaugural Savannah Food & Wine Festival, Nov. 11-17.

Savannah Magazine:  What made you pick Savannah for your next restaurant?

Hugh Acheson:  I love the city.  I love the coast.  I think Savannah’s just got that nuance—amazing architecture—it’s such an up-and-coming city.  I think it’s about to have a renaissance that’s really interesting.

SM:  Do you see that renaissance happening in the food arena?

Hugh:  Yes.  Look at Charleston.  (A few) years ago, the chefs just said, “Hey, wait a minute!  Let’s not just be tourist traps.  Let’s actually have great restaurants.”  And now they’re world-class.  And I think Savannah has started that trend already.  When you look at Back in the Day (Bakery), Local 11 Ten—there’s some good stuff happening there.  I think there’s just room for more.

SM: Your restaurant here will tend toward Italian cuisine, correct?

Hugh:  It will.  All the food we serve is based upon the availability of vegetables and meats and grains around our sphere.  We love Italian food and it’s got a connection to Southern food as a reaction to the seasons and what’s around.

I’m thinking of a wood-burning oven with wonderful wood-roasted sturgeon and local peas and local tomatoes.  So, is that Southern food or is it Italian?  It could be either.

SM:  Is there a regional cuisine that you would like to explore, that you think is on the cusp of being discovered?

Hugh:  Southern Indian food is probably on the cusp for a lot of reasons.  It tends toward a lot of fresh vegetables and grains, which are popular in a lot of North American diets right now.  And that’s a good thing.  We can’t eat as much protein and meat-based cuisine as we have been.  It’s not sustainable.

SM: When you started out as a chef, did you ever envision you’d also be a celebrity?

Hugh:  Ah … I shy away from that term.  No, not at all.  I wanted to have a successful restaurant, be a good tactician in the kitchen, and be smart and caring about my community.  And then we started getting some awards.  It’s a lot of luck.  I’m just a guy who authentically cares about what he’s doing every day.