Top Chef Masters Exit Interview: Episode 1
As we say farewell to Top Chef All-Stars, we turn our attention to the newly revamped Masters. No longer will Kelly Choi grace our screens as she has been replaced by Aussie chef Curtis Stone. With him he brings the traditional format that we know and love in Top Chef — no more counting points, just plain and simple quickfire and elimination challenges — and we were in for a treat as the first episode was Restaurant Wars.
Keep reading to hear what the first eliminated chef had to say.
Endless Simmer: You have three very successful restaurants, so what made you want to do Masters — and where did you find the time?
Hugh Acheson: You know at this stage in my career it means that I can’t be at all of them at once. I’ve got great people and great teams in place. That allows me to do other things like write a book recently that comes out in October. When we started to do Masters, we thought about it a lot and it’s a good way to raise money for a great charity and really good exposure for the restaurant. I don’t mind putting myself out there in those type of things, I just didn’t want it to be a reality cooking show that was more built on personal vendettas and things like that. I think Masters has been that venue.
What did it feel like walking into the Top Chef kitchen?
There were a lot of people who I knew there. I definitely knew John Currence, he’s an old friend, and Traci De Jardins, we’ve met a number of times. I knew the caliber of people but they’re all very different so it’s fun to see that this is going to show a lot of different styles of cookery.
Now that you’ve had time to reflect on the scallops, the dish that sent you home, what changes would you make?
I probably would have cut the scallops in half or something like that, they were just monstrous. When scallops are that big they lose some of their beauty. But they were the only ones that, it was either that or salmon but George [Mendes] was already doing salmon so I didn’t want to do that. You’re in a time crunch and you have to make decisions quickly. At the end of the day I still think the dish was a remarkably great dish overall, there were a lot of elements to it that were not really talked about like the beautiful pickled okra on top but that’s fine. Maybe it was over salted and I completely concur with that. I may have just salted that one a little heavily on top. I wouldn’t change it that much, other than cutting back on the salt that went to their table.
You have mentioned that your kids would get a kick out of seeing you on the show. How did they react?
They think I’m a goofball which is exactly how I want to be perceived in life. They thought it was hilarious and I think appreciated the fact that I was relatively gregarious and hopefully I came across as that.
What do you want someone to feel when they walk into a Hugh Acheson restaurant?
They’re all very different. Five & Ten was the first restaurant I opened up eleven years ago. I want people to come in to a very simple atmosphere and be wowed by great food in a small town — a lot of the time they’re not expecting that. It’s meant to be great food. It’s fun to take people by surprise with simple menu descriptions and have them really wowed at how great it was and how much fun they had and how comfortable they are. I think that’s the key to all the restaurants. Empire State South is the newest one in Atlanta; it’s not ritzier but it’s very finished and polished. want people to have great simple food, we’re not into tricks up our sleeves but really good food.
You chose Wholesome Wave Foundation as your charity, can you tell us a little bit about that?
Wholesome Wave is a really smart think tank group with a mandate to put great sustainable food on the table to those less fortunate. One of the problems I always have is being a chef and wanting everyone to eat from the farmers market and to buy local organic pork and heritage breed stock. Those are expensive things but if we can make them priced fairly for people who don’t have that much money then we’re fixing a lot of problems. Their biggest program is their SNAP program which is double the value of Federal Food Stamps at local farmers markets — if you go with $4 then you can get $8 worth of beets for example.
(Photos: Bravo TV)