5 Minutes With Hugh Acheson

 

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Photography by Emily Hall Dorio, 2014

 

On Monday evening, Hugh Acheson and fellow chefs Scott Crawford and Kyle Jacovino opened the Savannah Food and Wine Festival with a celebratory dinner at The Florence. Proceeds went to Acheson’s Seed Life Skills charity—a curriculum designed to empower the next generation with valuable societal skills. Before the six-course meal (Chilled Yellow Beet Soup; Hamachi Crudo; Sweet Potato Tortellini; Rabbit Agnolotti; Braised Short Rib; Dirty Chai Affogato) commenced, Acheson sat down with Savannah magazine for a chat. By Sarah Taylor Asquith

You introduced Seed Life Skills over a year ago. How’s it going?

Hugh Acheson: Great. Our curriculum is in four schools right now, and we’re about to blow up. We’re currently in talks with 12 or so more schools across the country.

What about Savannah schools?

Acheson: We’re trying, but nothing yet. I mean, it’s a free curriculum.  I just need a school superintendent to say, “Hey, I like what you’re doing—let’s do this.”

Why is this program so important?

Acheson: Nobody has addressed this one major malaise in the last generation which is that we’re forgetting how to cook. And we’re forgetting how to keep kids from falling over basic financial hurdles where they don’t have the wherewithal to pull themselves out. So it’s kind of like the merit badges for our next generation: Do you know how to poach an egg? Do you know how to roast a chicken? Do you know how to make a vinaigrette from scratch with four ingredients? Do you know how to make a simple salad? Because if you know those things, then you can make a meal for eight people for the price of four people getting Happy Meals. It’s not precious skills—it’s just skills that everyone should know as a citizen.

But it’s not just about food.

Acheson: No, it’s about life-based things too, like, how do you take a lawyer’s eye to a cell phone contract and know what you’re signing? How do you prep kids for signing their first lease? It’s why you shouldn’t sign up for a 24.99 APR credit card. It’s all about simple, retainable skills.

How did you come up with the idea?

Acheson: My daughter Beatrice is 14. When she was 11, she came home from school one day and recounted what she had learned, like how to make Red Velvet cupcakes from a box. I said, “That’s not good for you! How about you learn to make good food that’s healthy for you?” So Seed Life Skills became about reallocating ideas—12 skill sets that I want to teach every kid, not just my own kid. It’s a wide gamut and it’s a non-testable class. It should be fun, it should be like summer camp, it should be learning where they take away something. So when they’re 20 years old and making $600 a week and might have a family of four, they’re like, “Hey, I can make dinner. This is kind of cool.”

Your daughter must cook. What’s her specialty?

Acheson: She makes a perfect two-egg French omelet. She’s a bad ass. She’s a bad ass in many ways. This is the kid who, since age 8, said she’s going to be a cardiothoracic surgeon. But I didn’t do this for Beatrice. I did this because you can walk around Savannah and go from one block where there are million-dollar mansions to the next block where there’s heartfelt poverty. The schools are lapsing on giving these kids the chance to eat anywhere other than Krystal, seven meals a week. We’re failing a whole entire generation just because their parents don’t make a lot of money and don’t have a lot of chances.

For more from Acheson on Seed Life Skills, check out Planting The Future, our sit-down discussion with the Georgia chef and restaurateur about how he transformed a missed opportunity into a teaching moment.    

 

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