Celebrated Chefs on Georgia's Food Scene
How delicious is Georgia’s culinary landscape? Just ask "Top Chef" judge Hugh Acheson. Though he's known for his acerbic comments on the Bravo reality show, he waxes poetic when it comes to his home state. "Georgia is one of the quintessential places of amazing bounty," he says. "From coastal shrimp, clams, and fish, to apple orchards in north Georgia, to olive oil production in Lakeland, to peanuts and grits and every vegetable under the sun, we have an agrarian history that we are reclaiming."
Acheson is among the champions of this reclamation movement. He owns several celebrated restaurants across the state, including 5 & 10 and The National in Athens, and Empire State South in Atlanta. "At each of my restaurants, we want to take the historic vantage point of Southern food and turn it on its head a little bit," he says. "Everything we serve pretty much evokes Georgia at its core and truest sensibility," Acheson says.
In Macon, "Mama Louise" Hudson is passing along that same sensibility to a new generation. Since 1959, she has helped oversee the kitchen at H & H Restaurant, a popular soul food joint known for its collard greens, black-eyed peas, and fried chicken. She became something of a legend in music circles after she took pity on a group of skinny bandmates in 1965, serving them plates of comfort food at no charge. A few years later, that group became known as The Allman Brothers Band, and they gave their culinary benefactor a nickname: Mama Louise. “They turned out to be good boys,” she says with a smile.
Hudson is now in her eighties and has turned the reins of H & H over to new owners, Wes Griffith and Chad Evans of the Moonhanger Group, whose mission is to preserve Macon’s iconic establishments. (They also own the Rookery and its upstairs neighbor Dovetail in Macon.) Despite the sale, Hudson still goes into the restaurant every day. She makes sure the chicken is crispy, the smoked pork tenderloin moist, and the stone-ground grits thick and creamy. "I ain’t gonna have them mess up my name," Hudson laughs. Griffith and Evans welcome her input — and her tales about The Allman Brothers from back in the day. "She’s an amazing lady with so much knowledge," Griffith says.
Though Acheson and Hudson have restaurants that differ in style, they are both members of a growing cadre of chefs who champion Georgia's dining scene, one plate at a time. "People are growing more and more enamored with our state," Acheson says. "I’m happy to be a part of that."
Find more than 12,000 Georgia restaurants on ExploreGeorgia.org/dining. Search by location, cuisine, or restaurant type.