Hugh AchesonThe acclaimed Southern chef is no stranger to the slow cooker
BY ALEC HARVEY
Ask a lot of fine chefs, and they’ll kind of turn up their noses at the idea of using a slow cooker.
Not Hugh Acheson. The former “Top Chef” judge, owner of restaurants in Athens and Atlanta, Georgia, and James Beard Foundation Award cookbook award winner, is far from a slow cooker snob.
“I use a slow cooker myself at home,” he says.
So it should come as little surprise that Acheson’s fourth cookbook – following “A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen,” “Pick a Pickle: 50 Recipes for Pickles, Relishes, and Fermented Snacks” and “The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits” – is devoted to the art of slow cooking.
And make no mistake — “The Chef and the Slow Cooker” emphasizes “the art” of slow cooking.
“At first, you think this might be a boring book,” Acheson says. “That’s one of the issues with a slow cooker overall, because we just think it’s for pot roast or beans or something. But it really is versatile, and I like a challenge.”
Challenge accepted. “The Chef and the Slow Cooker” has 100 slow-cooker recipes in it. Yes, some old standards are there, but some will surprise the home cook.
“There are a gazillion ways you can make the slow cooker work for you,” Acheson says. “A lot of the slow cooker cookbooks of yore have the same old recipes. What we’re trying to figure out is how do you use a slow cooker as a gateway to further cooking? For instance, doing catfish in a slow cooker is a wonderful thing.”
Acheson said that while putting together “The Chef and the Slow Cooker,” what surprised him the most was that “there are a lot of things in the slow cooker that won’t be that slow.”
“Fish can be poached in about 15 minutes,” Acheson says.
He’ll put his cookbook recipes to the test when he appears in Oxford in the parking lot of the End of All Music on Dec. 1. The event – sponsored by the End of All Music and Square Books — will be divided into three parts: braised pork shoulder will be made in a slow cooker; that meat will be used to make tacos, which will be sold for charity; and an old-fashioned book signing.
“It’s going to be fun,” Acheson says. “We’re packing up an Airstream and doing these things all along on the book tour.”
The charity the taco sale is benefiting is Acheson’s own Seed Life Skills (seedlifeskills.org), a reimagined, more modern home economics curriculum that’s free for any schools that would like to implement it.
“A lot of it is culinary,” he says of the curriculum. “I don’t need to know how to make a red velvet cupcake, but I really should know how to make a roasted chicken or a vinaigrette. Those are recipes; those are techniques.”
In addition, to the new cookbook, Acheson has a new restaurant about to open, one to join Empire State South and Spiller Park Coffee in Atlanta and the National and his flagship, 5 & 10, in Athens. Achies will open at Atlanta’s Omni Hotel in late December.
The café is named after his grandfather, nicknamed “Achie.”
“He was a Canadian banker, but he lived most of his life in the Caribbean,” Acheson says. “It’s a Southern restaurant, but it will have a lot of Latin-American and Cuban-American influences on the menu.”
Acheson, who is based out of Athens, conceives his restaurants, has input on the designs and layout and creates the opening menus, both food and drink.
“I curate the restaurants overall,” he says. “Then I hire an executive chef, and we sit down and try to incorporate that person’s personality into the food.
“You can’t be everywhere at once, and you can’t cook every meal, so you have to delegate and trust people to do their work,” Acheson adds. “I realize that if we’re going to grow that we have to start hiring people who are better and smarter than me.”
Hugh Acheson will sign copies of “The Chef and the Slow Cooker” at the End of All Music parking lot on Dec. 1 at noon. It’s sponsored by the record store and Square Books.