Celebrity chef Hugh Acheson, born and raised in Ottawa, Canada, is considered a leading Southern chef despite his Northern roots.
In 2012, he was awarded the James Beard Foundation award for his cookbook, "A New Turn in the South," and for Best Chef Southeast for his Athens-based restaurant 5 & 10. He is also the chef/partner for The National in Athens and his Atlanta-based restaurant Empire State South.
Despite his success in the Southern food world, some folks still question Acheson's authenticity.
"People say, 'What do you know? You're not from the South,'" he says. "But the truth to Southern food is that its roots also come from people who were slaves, and they were not from here, either.
There is a long story and history of Southern food. Georgia has a harrowing history and it's very interesting to me . . . I read a lot and try to figure out what food was important â€¦ and then try to define Southern food."
The chef admits he spends a lot of time reading and researching to understand Southern food cultures and its history.
Acheson also says he thinks his Canadian background helps him in the kitchen.
"I am accepted as someone from Athens, Ga., who cooks in Athens, Ga., and for the community of Athens, Ga. And that's exactly what I do.
"I think being an outsider helpsâ€¦ because I'm not jaded by my grandmother's collard greens or â€¦ biscuits. There is a familial respect where chefs want to honor their family â€¦ and they will say 'this doesn't taste like my grandmother's food.' My grandmother never made collards or biscuits, so I don't have those ideas working against me."
Aside from his successful restaurants, Acheson also competed on television on Bravo's "Top Chef Masters," Season 3, and went on to star as a judge on the popular Emmy and James Beard award-winning show "Top Chef" for seasons 9, 10 and 11.
ABOVE: A sketched drawing of Acheson's planned new restaurant at One West Victory.
And now Savannah will get a star on Acheson's map of famous restaurants when he opens his new restaurant, The Florence, at One West Victory Drive in the building that once housed the historic Savannah Ice Factory.
Acheson says the 7,000-square-foot space will actually house three eateries in one building.
"It's not a huge restaurant," he says. "It's a big building with three concepts - a restaurant, a good coffee shop, and the upstairs space is a bar with a beautiful patio area.
"The restaurant will have Italian dishes made with Southern ingredients â€¦ like shrimp from Tybeeâ€¦ The thing about Italian food is most places import everything, but you don't need to.
"Georgia has great olive oil, locally made cheeses, flours, and of course, exquisite vegetables. The concept to this restaurant will be similar to City House in Nashville."
Acheson says the coffee shop will be something simple but will offer great coffee.
"I'm really into good coffee because I'm stubborn. I plan on upping the coffee market in Savannah.
ALSO SEE: Hugh Acheson makes "The Florence" official."
"It's close to SCAD, so I hope we can grow on that. It's going to be a place to get a great cortado â€¦ as well as a great place to hang out."
The upstairs portion of the building will be the bar area.
"We'll have a very modernized drink menu using mixology with shrubs, different sherries, Maderoâ€¦ I want to focus on the port of Savannah and what it meant to the city and what it brought to the city.
"Of course we'll have local Georgia beers, and some Italian food will be served as well. It has this beautiful upper patio area, and we'll be able to seat about 40 people. It's a beautiful room - it used to be an ice making factory - so it has these beautiful windows â€¦ and the walls are white washed."
Acheson says the idea behind the multi-space venue is to offer a place that caters to a wide-range of clientele.
"We want to cater to a multitude of people who can come and get something to eat and drink with prices from $3 to $100 and everything in between. I never want to exclude anyone."
New chef in town
But don't get too excited about seeing Acheson at his restaurant on a daily basis. The chef won't be manning the kitchen at The Florence.
"Kyle Jacovino will be the chef," Acheson explains. "He is the executive chef at 5 & 10 and he's a very uber-talented kid. He has an Italian background and we recently sent him to Italyâ€¦, so he's definitely prepared for this."
While the restaurant is not looking for a head chef, Acheson says he is still looking for "qualified souls who have a heart in cooking."
"We're definitely not bringing a whole crew to Savannah, so we still need people," he adds.
Savannah Food & Wine Festival
But before Acheson makes his way down for the proposed 2014 ribbon cutting of The Florence, he will come to town for the Savannah Food & Wine Festival Nov. 11-17.
His first appearance will be at the Celebrity Chef Tour Dinner at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at 700 Drayton where he'll be cooking alongside other James Beard Foundation award-winning chefs Chris Hastings, Steven Satterfield and Elizabeth Terry.
"I'm planning to make a short rib of sorts with hominy paired with Silver Oak cab," Acheson says. "It will be fun.
"We've done these events before and the James Beard Organization does a great job, and it promises to be a great dinner. â€¦ There is an amazing synergy that comes with a great bottle of wine and a great meal, and we are known for that."
Acheson says it's rare for egos to get in the way at these celebrity chef dinners.
"Hopefully it's a friendly get together," he says. "It's rare that it's a competitive thing. â€¦ We want to do what we do in a way that is respectful to the host chef and the community and show them that what we do every day is authentic."
Acheson will also host a cooking class from 1-3 p.m. Nov. 14 at The Mansion on Forsyth Park.
"I'm cooking my Frogmore Stew," he says. "It's based on a bouillabaisse. It's my version of Lowcountry boil."
Acheson says his goal for teaching a cooking class is for people to leave the class with at least one foundational skill they will actually use.
"I just want to help make better food possible for them on a daily basis," he adds.
Despite his busy schedule - filming "Top Chef" this season in New Orleans, "re-concepting his old 5 & 10 space in Athens to a new farm to table Mexican restaurant that is set to open late January, working on a new cookbook focused on vegetables, lots of freelancing, traveling and public speaking" - Acheson says he plans to hang out a bit at the festival.
"I'll be around for few days," he says. "The itinerary is pretty impressive."