Star Chef Hugh Acheson Talks About Fighting Alzheimer’s And The Power Of Comfort Food

Chef Hugh Acheson’s career has been hard-won. The Canadian-born, Southern-raised culinary master worked his way up from the belly of the beast after landing his first restaurant gig as a dishwasher at 15. You might envy his good looks and blessed life, but know this: Dude put in his 10,000 hours.

Today, Acheson has several iconic restaurants in Georgia and has taken on the world of food television via Iron Chef, Top Chef, and Top Chef Masters. He has an ease to his demeanor that seems to pull from his heritage in both Canada and the South. Warmth and charm radiate from him, even across a phone line.

I got a chance to talk to Acheson recently about a cause very close to both of us — Alzheimer’s. My maternal grandfather suffered from the disease for several years before succumbing to it in a rest home; Acheson’s father is currently suffering from it. Food was always a huge part of my life with my grandfather, even up to the end, and it struck me to see that a chef I deeply admire (Acheson’s burger at Empire State South is one of my favorites) dealing with this disease.

After finding out Acheson and other chefs are working with the Alzheimer’s Association’s campaign, Around the Table, I reached out for a chat. I spoke with the chef about how food is often a bonding agent for families dealing with Alzheimer’s. We also snuck in some burger talk because, obviously.

We came together to talk about the Alzheimer’s Association Around the Table program. Could you walk us through how you became part of Around the Table?

They contacted me and I felt like I can really help bring awareness to something because of who I am. People tend to listen to chefs, for some reason. I don’t ask why, but I just let them.

That led to me teaming up with the Alzheimer’s Association and other chefs. Plus, I think the campaign’s really cool. It’s using the power of food and raises awareness. And, hopefully, we can get to the bottom of how to fix an issue and the malaise that affects so many people.

How do you feel food helps you connect with someone who has Alzheimer’s?

You know — food in the purest sense of meaning — is nourishment and sustenance. Then there’s the emotional aspect of food. We convene around a table. We eat food with people we enjoy spending time with, the people we love, our friends and families. That type of power has so many ramifications in the positive. So, I think it really comes down to nourishing those people.