Hugh Acheson was born in Ottawa, Canada in 1971. He worked as a dishwasher at age 15, and climbed the ladder as a chef, landing jobs at prestigious restaurants before opening his first restaurant, Five & Ten, in Georgia. Two more restaurants, The National and Empire State South, followed. He competed on Top Chef Masters, is a judge on Top Chef, and published an award-winning cookbook in 2011.
Hugh Acheson was born in Ottawa, Canada on November 5, 1971. His parents divorced when he was young and, with the exception of two years he spent living with his mother and stepfather in Clemson, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia, he and his three older sisters were raised by his father in Ottawa.
Although Acheson didn't come from a family of gourmands, food was important in the household. He began cooking as a kid, and at age 15, landed his first restaurant job: a dishwasher at Bank Street Café. He worked at other famed Ottawa establishments, including Cantor's Deli, Memories and the Vienna Café. Acheson briefly attended Concordia University in Montreal, where he studied political philosophy, but dropped out and began working in fancier restaurants in Montreal.
In 1995, Acheson returned to Ottawa and worked at Henri Burger with Rob MacDonald, who he credits as one of his most important culinary influences. When Acheson's wife, Mary Koon, got into graduate school at the University of Georgia, the couple moved to Athens, Georgia, and Acheson became the head chef and manager of Athens' best restaurant, the Last Resort Grill. After Koon graduated, they moved to San Francisco and Acheson began working at Mecca with chef Mike Fenelly. Later, he landed a job as a sous chef for famed chef Gary Danko. He got the job before Danko opened his namesake restaurant, affording Acheson the opportunity to experience everything that went into starting a restaurant.
The experience at Gary Danko set Acheson up nicely for the call he soon received from Melissa Clegg. Clegg owned Last Resort, and wanted him to return to Athens to open Five & Ten, which he did in 2000. After just two years at Five & Ten, Acheson was named "Best New Chef" by Food & Wine magazine, and in 2007, he opened his second restaurant in Athens, The National, with chef Peter Dale. In 2010, Acheson opened Empire State South in Atlanta.
In 2011, Acheson was invited to compete on Season 3 of Top Chef Masters, where celebrity chefs compete against each other to raise money for a charity. Acheson was eliminated in the first round, but reinstated in the second episode following another chef's withdrawal. Though he didn't win the competition, he was invited to be a judge on Season 9 of Top Chef.
Acheson published a cookbook, A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen, in 2011, which won the 2012 James Beard Foundation award for "Best Cookbook in American Cooking." That same year, he won the the James Beard award for "Best Chef Southeast" (he had been nominated for the award five times previously). He also signed a deal with Clarkson Potter to write a second cookbook that focuses on local and season cooking, which is expected to be published in 2014.
Acheson met his wife in middle school, while he was living in the south with his mother. They reconnected while in college, and married two years later. They now live in Athens with their two daughters.
Fans have affectionately dubbed Acheson "The Hughnibrow" because of his unibrow.
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