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TOP CHEF'S HUGH ACHESON DISHES ON HIS NEWEST COOKBOOK (OUT TODAY) + A RECIPE

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Hugh Acheson/Photo by Emily B. Hall
Bravo Channel’s Top Chef judge and James Beard award winner, Hugh Acheson, releases The Broad Fork: Recipes for a Wide World of Vegetables and Fruit (Random House) today.  In it produce takes the main stage while Hugh not only reels Southern food back to its roots, but also lends importance to community-supported agriculture.
“It’s all about cooking from your CSA box,” says Canadian-born Hugh in a mid-morning call from his home in Athens, Ga.  “Utilize what's in season and around in the market.  You know, basically answering the age-old question of ‘What the hell do I do with kohlrabi?’" 

That very question was, in effect, the impetus for the book, after a neighbor found the unfamiliar, knob-like German vegetable in his home-delivered produce box and hit Hugh up for ways to craft it in the kitchen. 


On the spot, Hugh wedged out a couple of ideas that included slaw and a lobster and curried butter blend, both of which are included in The Broad Fork, but forever fascinated by connections between food and community, he began to think more about creative and uncomplicated ways to make the most of seasonal crops.
Kohlrabi, Lobster, Fennel and Curry Butter
Hugh Acheson, The Broad Fork
Photo by Rinne Allen
Similar to his other two cookbooks - A New Turn in the South: Southern Flavors Reinvented for Your Kitchen, which took home the award for Best Cookbook in the field of “American Cooking” by the James Beard Foundation in 2012, and his canning swatch book, Pick a Pickle - The Broad Fork quickly dispels the notion that Southern food is an endless stream of cornbread, fried chicken and biscuits with its use of pure, regional ingredients.

Hugh is adamant that the Southern table isn’t one of convenience food, but, rather, an agrarian reaction to the season that exists.  That's why it's most important to him to understand one’s surroundings.  

“So if I live in Northeast Georgia I know that in September I can drive 20 minutes away and buy local apples," he says. "And I understand when corn season is and what fish are in season along the coast of Georgia.  It's connecting the dots in your community.”

The new 200-recipe turner, which travels across the four seasons with three pared-down recipes and one that is more in-depth for each of the 50 ingredients showcased in the book, is an all-out harvest love fest.  Spring bites deploy classic cabbage kimchi and roasted pork tenderloin with bok choy, tomatoes and avocado.  Summer rounds out with raspberry cobbler with a drop biscuit topping and seared scallops with corn, spinach and bacon.  Hugh delivers fall with lamb loin and root puree, pomegranate and celery vinaigrette while winter is homey with chicken thighs over barley Brussels risotto and a side kale salad with crisp shallots and caper dressing.

As the guy who grew up in an academic family, but hated school and doesn’t boast formal culinary training, yet is considered one of the country’s star chefs and restaurateurs with four critically-acclaimed eateries in his adopted state, Hugh comes across as a little bit quirky rebel (in a nice way) and all down-to-earth.  He’s also been dubbed the Jamie Oliver of Southern Cooking, drawing reference to the English celebrity chef who campaigns globally for food education and reform. 

“You know what I like about Jamie?” Hugh asks.  “I think he's a really good chef and I think he's been amazingly successful at business.  But he cares. He really, really does care.  And he cares because he has kids and he cares about his community.  Unfortunately we convinced America and everyone in the UK to put sugar in everything we eat and nobody ever notices.”

Hugh’s solution to get America to stop relying on fast food is to teach them how to cook again and make sure it's fun. 


“And cooking should be fun!” he shares.  “The best times in your life are cooking with your family in your kitchen and enjoying yourself.  Because I always say this: Nobody has a life moment over a pizza pocket.”

Outtakes:

On why he doesn’t like the New Southern cooking label sometimes thrown on him:
“I’ve never been a big fan of the New Southern cooking thing. I think it fails to properly take credence to a lot of things in our past we need to own up to.  It moves on too quickly from the fact that we need to come to terms with what we call Southern food is the food of West Africa.  We owe it to the African Americans in the South who basically are responsible for our food.  We can change it, we can evolve it, we can make it better with their help, but we have to come to terms with it didn't start on the plantation main house table.  It started in the slave quarters.  And that's kind of a painful thing.  So I think that the term ‘New South’ sort of glosses over it.” 

On balancing creativity and entrepreneurial efforts:
“The bottom line that I always need to realize that I'm a pretty much a restaurateur now as opposed to an executive chef. But you know I also have two kids who are 10 and 12 and kind of need taxiing around everywhere they go.  And that's fine and we enjoy it.  I'm beyond the point of working at one restaurant for 90 hours a week.  But I love the business aspect of it and I love the really intriguing aspects of how you build something that people want to go to and how you create a brand and how you continue it and what you do to encourage people.  That requires building a team and I also love that building of team.  I love – love – delegating to other people.  More so, I like to be surrounded by people who are better than me at a lot of things.  Because I'm not pompous enough to think that I'm the best at all this. I need help and down in Savannah (at his restaurant, The Florence), Kyle's better at executing Italian food than I am.  He's there for a reason.  A lot of executive chefs and restaurateurs don't have the ability to give up those decision making things and you've gotta give these people control.” 

On the books he wants – and doesn’t want - to publish:
“I never wanted to publish a book that people would not dirty up the kitchen.  The books I do I want people to actually use.  I love a book.  I treasure it.  I'm a professional chef so I'm always looking for different ideas that people have in the high end of dining, but that's not what I want to publish.  I want to publish something that people say, ‘Geez, man, we make that salad of yours every week and that vinaigrette has become a staple in our house.' That's what means the most to me.” 

On feeling connected to his adopted community:
“I really enjoy being part of the community I live in and I have for 20 years.  I think that if I lived in Cleveland I would feel the same.  Whatever community you're in immerse yourself in it, get to know your neighbors.  And respect it.  Make it better.  You have nobody to blame but yourself if you complain about your environment.”   

Check out more on Hugh Acheson at http://hughacheson.com or www.bravotv.com



Recipe share of that beauty of a kohlrabi dish above:

SKILLET KOHLRABI, LOBSTER, FENNEL, and CURRY BUTTER
Hugh Acheson | THE BROAD FORK
Make sure you buy lobsters alive and kicking, and buy them when they are in season. They really don’t take that long to cook. I usually figure about 6 minutes per pound in boiling water, and onto the table. In this recipe, we cook it a little further in the pan, so I shorten the boiling time, to 4½ minutes per pound.

Serves 2 as an appetizer or a light main course:

3 tablespoons Curry Butter (recipe follows)
½ bulb kohlrabi, peeled, halved and sliced into ¼-inch-thick half-moons
½ fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 live lobster (1¼ to 1½ pounds), boiled for 4½ minutes per pound and cleaned and cut into pieces (instructions follow)
Kosher salt
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

In a large sauté pan, melt half of the curry butter over medium heat. When it begins to bubble and froth, add the kohlrabi and the fennel. Cook for 5 minutes to soften the vegetables. Then add the garlic and the lobster pieces. Season with kosher salt to taste.

Cook for 3 minutes, to warm through and finish cooking the lobster pieces. Then add the scallions, lime juice, and the remaining curry butter, stirring well to fully incorporate the butter, beautifully glazing the vegetables and the lobster.

Spoon the contents of the pan onto a platter, and serve. Maybe a chilled white Burgundy will appear if you think nice thoughts.

CURRY BUTTER
 Makes 1 cup
¼ pound (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon lime juice

Melt the 1 tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it bubbles and froths, add the shallot and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ginger and curry powder and cook for 1 minute more. Then add the lime juice, stir to combine, and remove from the heat. Set the mixture aside to cool to room temperature.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining stick of butter with the sautéed shallot, ginger, and curry. Mix well, then place the mixture in a jar and refrigerate.

HOW to COOK a LOBSTER
I remember my family committing culinary atrocities with the classic Canadian lobster. Boiling it for too long in insipid water made for a less than regal end for the poor little
crustacean. To me, lobster is an attainable luxury, so one should know how to turn it into an impressive meal.

Makes 1 lobster

2 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
1 lemon, thinly sliced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
4 bay leaves
Sea salt
1 live East Coast lobster

Pour 2 gallons of water into a large stockpot set over high heat. Add the Old Bay, lemon slices, thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and enough sea salt so that the water tastes pleasantly like the ocean. Bring to a boil and then add the lobster. Cook for 5 minutes per pound—so a 1¼-pounder will take 6 minutes—and then transfer it from the pot to a platter (if you are going to eat it then) or to an ice bath (if it is for later use in a recipe.) If it’s the former, get a bib, some claw crackers and picks, and go to town. If the latter, then let’s clean that lobster up:


Place the lobster on a couple of paper towels on top of a cutting board, and twist off the tail. Using poultry shears, cut off the outer side of the tail’s shell, being careful not to actually cut into the flesh. Twist off the claws and knuckles, and cut the shells on those too and remove the meat. (Sometimes it is safer to use a claw cracker than shears. I leave this to you.) Inside each claw is a sheer piece of shell that runs inside the meat. Pull this out from the back of the claw meat. It will look like a little translucent boomerang. Take all the meat you have freed from the shells and rinse it quickly under cold water to remove the white stuff that accumulates on the cooked meat. This is hemolymph, which is kind of what the lobster has instead of blood. Chop the shells and carcass up for a bisque or stock, and chop the reserved meat into pieces or prepare as your recipe indicates.


“Recipes reprinted from The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits. Copyright ©2015 by Hugh Acheson. Photographs by Rinne Allen. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.”

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