When I pull back the curtain to meet Hugh Acheson for an interview at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival, his infamous eyebrows jet in opposite directions - one raises as if looking me over, one furrows suspiciously. He's busy filling a pot with water. "Follow me," he instructs as he walks out the door, and I run after him, attempting not to trip on the way up to the culinary demo stage.
I only have a few minutes with him before he begins demoing a Southern breakfast, complete with poached eggs and perfectly seasoned grits, so I jump right in to ask about his upcoming cookbook, entitled The Chef and the Slow Cooker ($30). What inspired Chef Acheson to tackle such a subject as the humble slow cooker, an appliance more often associated with easy, budget home-cooking than high-end cuisine? He simply responds, "I think we've begun to see the rise in popularity of slow cookers again. About a year ago. I wanted to harness [that] but [with] interesting and contemporary recipes that you can actually pull off at home." How brilliant. After all, no chef (that I know of) has attempted to develop thoughtfully written and tested recipes for this popular appliance.
The only catch is, people love to slow cook because the "set-it-and-forget-it" mentality almost doesn't really require much effort to achieve tender, flavorful results. On the other hand, chef cookbooks tend to be complex, advanced, and time-intensive. To which Chef Acheson responds, "The chef-speak books are not really my thing. I want to encourage people to cook. It just seem like a good melding." And a good melding it will be. Chef Acheson's book is likely to be full of foolproof and delicious ways to cook just about everything in your slow cooker. Chef says his two favorites from the book have to be poached cod and braised chicken.
As for the brand to invest in, Chef Acheson has this advice, "Your classic Crock-Pot is great." He also recommends All-Clad. Just don't go for anything with an aluminum insert as those won't last as long. Opt for "something that has a heavy insert" as it "can conduct heat really well." Think porcelain or stainless steel.