Hugh Acheson is the owner/chef and boldface name at Empire State South – the restaurant reviewed in today’s newspaper. Although he keeps an apartment in Atlanta, Acheson actually lives in Athens, where he tends to his two other restaurants. He oversees the kitchen, but he doesn’t always run it.
The day-to-day kitchen manager in this kind of setup is what most places would call a “chef de cuisine” though Empire State South goes with the title “executive chef.” This is a cook who not only executes the head chef’s vision but also contributes to it by introducing specials that eventually work their way onto the menu. Being a chef de cuisine for a well known culinary personality is an ideal position for a up-and-coming chef with a distinctive culinary voice who will likely break out on his own one day.
When ESS opened in late August, the managing chef was Nick Melvin (pictured), who came to the restaurant after successful runs at Parish in Poncey-Highland and the Farmhouse at Serenbe in Palmetto. By late September he was out. Acheson characterized the split as a mutual decision based in part on a difference in palate.
Soon thereafter, Acheson hired Ryan Smith from Restaurant Eugene to take over the kitchen. Smith, who knows how to cure and preserve meats well, brought a different set of skills and a different palate to the enterprise.
For the record, I visited ESS once under Melvin’s stewardship and then twice under Smith’s. I did notice a difference in the food.
Though we’ve reported on these doings on this blog, I decided to gloss over the particulars in the review itself. My feeling is that behind-the-scenes stuff is more interesting to the restaurant community than to the majority of readers who just want to know whether the food and service will be worth the price. Reviews in daily newspapers should be a consumer service first; when too many personalities enter the review, I feel it starts to read too inside baseball.
But that’s what blogs are for. Here’s where I’ll tell you that Melvin has landed as chef de cuisine at Rosebud under chef Ron Eyester. Now I wonder who’s replacing Smith at Restaurant Eugene…