Hugh Acheson, restaurant owner, author, judge on the show Top Chef and creator of a podcast, poses for a portrait inside Chase Park Transduction studio in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday, February 19, 2019. Acheson decided to start the podcast to try a new medium and reach a different audience than his books. (Photo/Caroline Barnes, http://carolinembarnes.wixsite.com/photography)

Hugh Acheson has come a long way from his first restaurant job at age 15. Since then, with 32 years of restaurant and cooking experience under his belt, he’s using his expertise from owning four restaurants and adding his breadth of knowledge into his recently debuted podcast, “Hugh Acheson Stirs The Pot.”

The show features guests such as “Top Chef” judge and participant Tom Colicchio and Carla Hall eating and discussing their favorite foods, speaking about their time in the kitchen, restaurants they love and confronting how food interacts with culture and politics.

“I’m looking for people smarter than me, and there are a lot of those, so that’s good,” Acheson said jokingly. “But really, I’m looking for people who have a perspective on the world and how food intersects with it. Asking people questions like, ‘What is nourishment? What does it mean for a community to be nourished?’ I’m looking for guests with opinions for those answers.”

Podcast origins

Acheson’s recent debut as a podcaster comes from his long history in the food industry. Acheson is the owner of local Athens restaurants, the Southern-inspired Five & Ten and the Mediterranean-reminiscent The National.

From winning a James Beard Foundation Award for the Best Cookbook in American Cooking to serving as a judge on “Top Chef,” Acheson is ready to flip the table to talk with other established aficionados in the food world.

Scott Porch, the producer of the podcast and long-time journalist, had been thinking about a project like this for a while before Acheson contacted him. He knew Acheson from Twitter and from his closed Savannah restaurant, The Florence, and Porch decided to join the team after Acheson brought the idea up during the conversation.

“Hugh is different than other celebrity hosts — he’s really functioning as a journalist in this show,” Porch said. “He was interested in exploring some ideas about food and poverty and the changes in the food world over the last generation.”

This isn’t the first time Acheson has confronted how food interacts with different aspects of our lives. Acheson launched his nonprofit, Seed Life Skills, in 2016. The nonprofit re-vamps home economics by providing a curriculum for middle schoolers in subjects such as conscious consumer economics and cooking instruction.

“Everyone should be talking about food justice. Hunger is not something we should tolerate as a society.”

— Amy Trauger, UGA professor

But as far as Acheson is concerned, the episodes are purely about and driven by the conversation between the host and the guest. It’s these conversations that bring this project to life. As a host, it's just as much about learning how to be an active listener and as it’s about asking the right questions that guide the conversation, Acheson said.

Food justice awareness

Specifically, Acheson unpacks how people interact with food and how food interacts with the world.

While the Acheson asks guests to discuss their favorite restaurants, foods and experiences, he plans to address topics like sociopolitical implications of the food industry too.

“I think chefs see a lot of different facets of society: they see people come in weekly to eat at their fine-dining restaurants, they see their dishwasher struggling through the economics of the world, they see people struggling to fit in,” Acheson said. “They also have an overarching sense of hospitality toward everyone, and having that hospitality has a kinship with being a good communitarian.”

Being aware of these economic disparities is the first step in mitigating inequality, according to Amy Trauger, an associate professor who specifies in food sovereignty at the University of Georgia. Trauger said that while no chef has a responsibility to try and address the issue of hunger and economic disparity, citizens should collectively strive to confront these problems in any way we can.

In an era of social media, podcasts are an effective format to promote awareness about food justice.

“Everyone should be talking about food justice,” Trauger said in an email. “Hunger is not something we should tolerate as a society.”

In his first episode, which aired on Feb. 5, 2019, Acheson noticed that more chefs on social media have become vocal about social and political issues. Acheson strives to have conversations that confront the topic of food security and sustainability.

“I think that it’s a conversation not that I want to have but one that’s intrinsically important to have,” Acheson said. “The way that we feed ourselves, and our communities, in the next 50 years is going to be paramount to whether we survive or not.”

Acheson's ambitions

Acheson has more in the works beyond this podcast. He’s throwing around ideas of another podcast, he’s finishing up a sous vide book soon, he’s starting to work on a book on coffee and a book on how to teach kids to cook.

But Acheson thinks his more personal moments are the ones where he was most successful.

“The idea of being a good employer is probably my proudest achievement,” Acheson said. “Being on TV is not even in the top 50, but it gives you access to a lot of different things. I’m proud of books and my kids. It’s the simpler things.”

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