Omnivore - What happend at Hugh Acheson's endangered eats lunch

...here's what you missed.


For about a week, #Atlanta social media was in a tizzy over an upcoming event hosted by Georgia's very own semi-regular "Top Chef" judge and restaurateur, chef Hugh Acheson.

The news circulating read:

Endangered Eats is s a one-day only tasting menu featuring endangered species; hosted by celebrity chef Hugh Acheson at Empire State South in Atlanta. By eating these rare species, we can help save them.

Some folks were apparently horrified, outraged by the thought of gobbling up precious animals for fun. Tweets were tweeted:

"@WWF how do we stop this?" and "How does a chef even get access to endangered species?"

On May 20, guests arrived at Empire State South and were greeted by a barrage of professional-looking video cameras, heavy duty wires, and a cavalcade of dressed-to-impress extras. Many appeared to be really excited to see, and possibly even meet, the "Top Chef" celeb. Servers passed hors-d'œuvres while camera crews filmed the curious tastings.

An official invite explained Acheson's "edible intent":

Every chef wants to find and create new flavors to share with the world. However, when a species becomes endangered or extinct, we don’t just lose that species. We lose that flavor. With Endangered Eats, I hope people develop a taste for endangered species because we need to eat them to save them. At its heart, Endangered Eats is a conservation mission.

Once seated in the dining room — now crowded with rigging, cables, and bright lighting — Acheson greeted us: "I am not going to tell you what you are eating until afterwards, but it is nothing unethical and nothing illegal, " he said. "Just keep an open mind and have fun," he said. "You are helping a conservation effort being here."

Whispering and speculation ensued. The dishes pictured above were delivered without much fanfare. Servers were waiver-bound-tight-lipped about the ingredients. A crimson bowl of Thump in the Night was first, with two slices of tender and rare mystery meat. Next came Fowl Play with its curious slices of mystery meat topped with dainty purple flowers. This dish was met with comments along the lines of: "This just looks weird," and "Like Spam, I think this has meat glue."

Last up was Running Scarce, which we assumed was probably a heritage breed of pig Acheson wanted to highlight. It came topped with what looked like a dried yellow tomato skin.

Finally, the-man-behind-the-curtain appeared and told us about each of his bamboozling creations.

"There was just one endangered species...a tomato," he said.

People sighed audibly with relief (more for the cameras, I think). Next, the private dining room's huge sliding door wooshed open dramatically, revealing a Martha Stewart-esque tablescape of mounds and basketfuls of purple tomatoes. (It felt like being on a game show and we'd all just won whatever was behind Door #1.)

And then, finally, we got the straight dope. The whole production (and it was quite a production) was to promote the Save the Flavors campaign, Seeds of Change. Acheson spoke about the influence of his friend Janisse Rae and her groundbreaking (no pun intended) book, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food . In it, Rae passionately argues that the future of food lies within seeds.

"We need to save seeds for a better tomorrow," Acheson said. "This is something we need to pay attention to in the same way, and with the same level of care, as endangered animals."

And then he sent us on our way with packets of Cherokee Purple seeds as parting gifts. (If you visit Save the Flavors' website you too can get a free packet, too.)

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Thump was beef heart, the Fowl was pressed Guinea hen, Running Scarce was indeed pork tenderloin.

Where to Eat
Food Events