'Top Chef' judge Hugh Acheson talks about plans for new restaurant in Savannah

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comApril 24, 2013 

Hugh Acheson

RINNE ALLEN — Submitted photo

Savannah is known for a lot of things -- its history, its beautiful squares and open spaces, and its massive annual St. Patrick's Day celebrations -- but not necessarily its cuisine.

James Beard award-winning chef and author Hugh Acheson is hoping to change that.

Acheson, who also appears regularly as a guest judge on Bravo's "Top Chef" and is a familiar face at Palmetto Bluff's Music to Your Mouth Culinary Festival, announced last week that he would be expanding his restaurant empire into the Coastal Empire with an Italian-style eatery on Victory Street. His other restaurants include decorated eateries 5&10 and The National in Athens, Ga., and Atlanta's Empire State South.

Savannah, Acheson said, seemed like the next logical place for him to open a restaurant.

"We knew we wanted to expand within the state of Georgia and continue to highlight the incredible agriculture, meat and seafood that makes our state the shining star of the South," he said. "And it just seemed that, when we looked around, there wasn't a lot of good food. I shouldn't say there wasn't good food but there wasn't my style of good food. That seemed to be missing."

Acheson made comparisons between Savannah and Charleston, a city that, in a relatively short amount of time, has become one of the nation's premiere culinary destinations.

There's no reason Savannah's culinary scene shouldn't rival that of its sister city, he said.

"Charleston has a world-class dining scene, and that's really developed over the last 10 years, and we think that's going to slowly happen here in Savannah," Acheson said. "You have the (Savannah College of Art and Design), which is always doing so many interesting things and so much history here, and the architecture is beautiful. We just felt like this was the time."

The restaurant, which will be at the intersection of Victory and Bull streets when it opens in March, is tentatively being called "Vittoria," the Italian word for victory, but Acheson said the name is merely "a placeholder."

"I don't want a name that sounds too Italian," he said. "The food will certainly be seasonal and will have a heavy Italian bend, but I don't ever like to be dragged into a certain genre of food. Truthfully, there was a lot of similarities between Italian food and true Southern food. Both are about simplified, bright, vibrant flavors."

The new multistory restaurant, the plans for which Acheson recently posted to his Instagram account, will also feature a coffee shop and bar/beer garden and will be run by those already working within Acheson's organization.

"Our general manager is someone who is already working here at our restaurant in Athens, and we'll have chefs moving down there as well," Acheson said. "We have some really talented young kids working for us, and I want to make sure that they are well-rewarded for their hard work and given a chance to make a name for themselves. I've already made a name for myself. It's their turn now."

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at http://www.twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.

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