The Atlanta Braves roster is filled with sluggers like Matt Kemp, Freddie Freeman and Dansby Swanson. But it’s the culinary lineup at SunTrust Park, the team’s new 41,149-seat stadium, that might have the biggest names. Inside the venue (and in surrounding The Battery entertainment district), you’ll find new eateries from epicurean all-stars such as Todd English, Ford Fry and Giovanni Di Palma.
Another big name on the squad belongs to Hugh Acheson, an Ottawa-born, Athens, Georgia-based chef who just opened First & Third Hot Dog and Sausage Shack at the ballpark. Though this spot is a bit of a departure from Acheson’s more formal establishments in midtown Atlanta (Empire State South) and Savannah (The Florence), it’ll still have no problem winning over fans with its artisanal meats and housemade chow-chow.
But opening a new restaurant isn’t the James Beard Award-winning toque’s only play right now. The 45-year-old husband and father is also a staunch supporter of No Kid Hungry, an organization tirelessly fighting to get food to every child in need through local outreach and national fundraising events like May’s Chefs Cycle race.
A few months ago, Acheson spoke on the importance of school meals at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C. When we chatted with him recently, we talked about that big day in our nation’s capital, Atlanta’s evolving culinary scene and the best place to eat in Montreal.
When did the fight against childhood hunger become such an important issue to you?
I have girls and they go to public school in Athens. Just seeing the truths about the communities that we live in, the disparity between wealth and lack, the real poverty that exists in the state of Georgia. Seeing that firsthand and wanting to be effective in trying to make sure that we look at all of these folks in our community and help wherever we can.
We all have to get along and figure out somehow to support each other. That’s always been my mandate, and I’d do it if I were a chef and I’d do it if I were a dentist.
You took this message to D.C. Tell me about that experience.
Yeah, it was the National Governors Association’s semi-annual meeting. I spoke to most of all of the governors in the country about the importance of in-classroom breakfast and the federal funds to support that.
The states have an obligation to figure [the finances] out and affect it if they can. It’s really not costing us much; it’s just an application to get the funds from the fed. So, there’s really no excuse.
It’s proven in so many ways to advance test scores and make kids healthier. The bottom line: we’re raising a generation together, right? Do we look at a whole 20 percent of the population and say, “You know what? I don’t really care if you didn’t eat well over the weekend.” I don’t see how people could possibly do that.
We’re putting a team together as a country. That team is our next generation. If you’re running a sports franchise and you’ve starved your players, what are you going to get out of them? Nothing. At the least, we can get them a healthy meal to start their day.
How receptive were the governors?
We see this as a nonpartisan issue. It’s just about kids and it’s about community. It’s hard to argue against feeding a kid.
You see the governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, who’s very Republican, and [Democrat] Terry McAuliffe, the governor of Virginia, come together and agree [it’s good]. They don’t agree on anything except for this. These programs are really important for the future of this country.
For the readers touched by this subject, what are some actions they can make?
You can write your congressman, your state senator and governor and make sure that funds stay intact. You can make sure that in-school lunches are promoted as a program.
Public schools have become the cafeteria, breakfast, lunch and dinner, the medical facility, everything for low-income American kids. If we’re trying to take care of our community and our citizens, we can’t just keep stripping away funding for public schools. All of those things go hand in hand.
People just have to engage. We engage politically. We see people more fired up than ever, on both sides of the aisle. Becoming engaged is a brilliant thing. I really want people to become engaged on a really local level first.
On a lighter note, when you step back and look at Atlanta’s culinary scene, what do you like?
I think that Atlanta is an amazing place. I think the last 10 years have been a wake-up call for Atlanta to be Atlanta.
Atlanta 20 years ago was all about pomp and circumstance, dancing valets and big signs. The last thing that people were paying attention to was the food on the plate. But Atlanta now is treasuring all echelons of food, whether it be true soul food at Busy Bee or amazing food at Bacchanalia.
There’s something for everyone in Atlanta now. I think there’s an authenticity that needs to be supported and rejoiced in. We’ve got an amazing dining scene. We should be proud.
What are some of your favorite dining spots outside of Atlanta?
There’s a restaurant in Montreal called Joe Beef that I adore. I always go to this little Thai place in Las Vegas called Lotus of Siam. In Los Angeles, I go to this place called Sqirl and it has this amazing young chef [Jessica Koslow] who worked at Bacchanalia for years in Atlanta.
The beauty of the world right now is that you don’t have to go to Vegas or New York to get great food. You can go to Minneapolis and have a meal that’ll be a meal of a lifetime. The dining scene has totally changed and totally grown up around the country. I just think we’ve woken up to great food.
I’ve gone to places that aren’t known on the culinary scene, like Jacksonville and Richmond, and have had some amazing meals.
Exactly. You wouldn’t have said that 20 years ago. It’s really game changing.