A New Turn in the South


When I initially learned about the Savannah Food and Wine Festival, I immediately knew that I wanted to participate. One of the best ways to attend Savannah Events and Festivals like a VIP is to Volunteer to help work behind the scenes, so I registered online months ago and selected the events I knew I didn’t want miss. Since then, I’ve been anxiously awaiting for the day to finally arrive so that I can hob nob with the Foodie Famous and live my culinary dreams of becoming a Celebrity Top Chef. Last week the Stars finally aligned (literally) and the First Annual Savannah Food and Wine Festival premiered in the city’s famous Downtown Historic District, capturing the hearts (and stomachs) of locals and tourists of all ages.

The highlight of the week for me was the Chef Hugh Acheson Cooking Class held at the 700 Drayton Cooking School on Thursday, November 14th. I am a HUGE Top Chef fan and Hugh Acheson is my all-time favorite celebrity chef from the series because he has a smart mouth, a quick wit and he’s not afraid to tell you what he thinks. (Reminds me of someone ELSE I know very well, hmmmmm.) I have also grown to love his signature uni-brow, although I will never truly understand it.

I arrived early for my shiftChef Darrin and Marcia.jpg at the 700 Drayton Cooking School on with a permanent smile on my face from ear to ear. The cooking school is located inside of the Mansion on Forsyth Park so it was very convenient for me to park at our office and walk the 2 blocks to the hotel. Everyone on staff at the Mansion was very helpful and directed me to Chef Darin who is the head of the 700 Drayton Cooking School. I took a cooking challenge two years ago at the school with Chef Darin and it was a blast. The setup that they have is TOP NOTCH and attending a cooking class at 700 Drayton is unique Savannah Activity that I would recommend for your visit. It is an especially great option for for Girls’ Getaways, Bachelorette Parties, Corporate Team Building or anyone looking to have some foodie fun.

Chef Hugh appeared around noon carrying a very fashionable Mustard Book bag looking just as dashing as he does on TV. It was AWESOME to be able to have some one-on-one time with him before everyone else arrived and he was very cool to put up with all my nonsense. Hugh, (yeah, we’re on a first name basis now) has two restaurants in Athens, GA “Five and Ten” & “The National” while also making his mark on the Atlanta Culinary Scene with his restaurant “Empire State South.” The BIG NEWS for Savannah Georgia is that Hugh will be opening his first restaurant in the Hostess City named “The Florence,” in April of 2014.

The Florence will reside at #1 Victory Drive next to the newest installment of SCAD housing in the downtown district. Hugh told me that the restaurant was going to occupy all Three Floors of the old Ice Warehouse with an Italian Style Dinner Restaurant on Floor #1, a Gourmet Coffee House on Floor #2, and a Wine and Spirits Bar on the top and final floor. He will be bringing his Executive Chef, Kyle Jacovino, from his Five & Ten Restaurant in Athens to run the show. Hugh sent Kyle to Italy for a year to study and tells me that they have similar cooking styles and philosophies so he is more than confident that Kyle will do him proud.

Finally. I asked the question on all of our minds, will there ever be a Top Chef Savannah? He grinned and told me that there might be a Top Chef SOUTH on the horizon but nothing in the works just yet.. (Just remember, you heard it HERE first!)

Hugh is on tour promoting his new James Beard Award Winning Cookbook “A New Turn in the South” he selected his Frogmore Stew recipe from its pages to demonstrate to the class. He explained that Frogmore Stew is his take on the Southern Classic Low Country Boil but it is served in its own broth similar to a bouillabaisse. Chef Hugh admits to us that the dish was the result of a recipe misread out of Hoppin’ John Taylor’s First Book “Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking.” He had never cooked Low Country Boil before, (Yankee) and he didn’t realize that you were supposed to throw away the broth. As a matter of fact, he goes on to tell us that he didn’t understand WHY you would throw it out in the first place. (Hear, Hear!) Most of the ingredients for the stew are very similar to Low Country Boil; Andouille Sausage, Corn, Red Potatoes, Fresh Local Shrimp and a lot of other amazing ingredients which I can’t share at this time. You will just have to buy the cook book to get the full interpretation. (Ok, Ok, you caught me! The shameless promotion of his cook book is my way of scoring points with Hugh. Did it work?

After the initial introduction to the class, we had a short wine presentation by Treasury Wine Estates. My new friends Heath and Lisa were on hand to represent Matua Wine and went on to tell the class that Matua was the first Sauvignon Blanc to be grown in New Zealand back in 1969. Heath detailed the process of how Matua is made and gave us advice on how to pair it with our uniquely Southern Palate while Lisa poured a glass for everyone.I ran into the duo again on Saturday at the VIP Vinters Tent during the Taste of Savannah Event where I took this great shot.
Check out Treasury Wine Estates website at www.tweglobal.com

Once the wine instruction was over, Hugh began telling the class about his beginnings as a chef and how his love for fresh ingredients fueled his drive to cook professionally. He talked to us about the importance of using local ingredients and spoke passionately about how we should strive to support our local food sources. As he puts it, “We are all in this together.”

hef Hugh went on to talk about how cooking at home can bring families closer together and that we need to take the time to learn where our food is coming from instead of just cramming any old thing into our mouths. He also told several funny stories about his experiences in restaurants and kitchens with an appropriate tale about his friendly Grit debate with Savannah’s very own Paula Dean. Listening to Chef Hugh was very motivating as well as entertaining and I think that everyone walked away with a greater sense of community. Good Times!

Because the Stew had so many components, it was impossible to give everyone a taste of everything but my VIP Volunteer status allowed me to eat my little heart out after everyone left. (Nah Nah Nah) The Frogmore Stew was to DIE for and I will be cooking it very soon for my friends. I also enjoyed ample servings of all the Matua that was left over from the class!

After the class ended, marcia and jesse.jpgJesse Blanco, star of the Savannah Hit Foodie show Eat it and Like it, was on deck to interview Hugh and was nice enough to let me stay and watch the behind the scenes. After the interview, Jesse and I posed for a few photos with Hugh and we even got a great shot of the two of us together while we were at it. Make sure to catch the third season of Jesse’s show Eat it and Like
it Sunday mornings at 7:30am on WSAV-TV and you can also visit his website at www.eatitandlikeit.com where he will have a complete recap of the Savannah Food and Wine Festival Events. Thanks for the photos Jesse!

Meeting my favorite Celebrity Chef was an experience I will never forget. Hugh was very cool and really went out of his way to answer all of our questions and pose for photos, autographs etc. I would like to extend my thanks to him once again for taking the time out of his schedule to chat with me and I will be the first in line to eat at The Florence in the Spring of 2014.

PS. If you need someone to host a Quickfire on Top Chef SOUTH – I’m your girl!!!

Finally, I would like to say Congratulations to Savannah’s Tourism and Leadership Council for creating and executing such a magnificent First Annual Savannah Food and Wine Festival. Most of the events at the were sold out before the week even began and the festival boasted record breaking numbers for a first time showing. Thank you to all of the Volunteers, Presenters, Chefs, Restaurants, Venues and anyone else I am leaving out for the truly fantastic job. Events such as these are the reason that I love to live in this amazing city and I look forward to watching it grow and working even more shifts next year.

Now, I will close with the wise words of my good friend Hugh Acheson; “Eat Well and Be Swell.”