From one mighty oak tree, many acorns fall and grow into other strong trees with roots that run deep in tradition. The same could be said about the life and legacy of Chef Malcolm Hudson, whose recent passing leaves a hole in Columbia’s food scene. Even those who may not recognize Hudson’s name can see his influence; it is as visible around town today as the signs on the restaurants that house chefs whom he has mentored.
Hudson, born in Detroit, was a world traveler with a voracious passion for learning and consuming information. He was a writer with an interest in philosophy and English that led him to pursue a midlife degree at the University of South Carolina. His thirst for knowledge took him back and forth from France to the States several times as he studied at La Varonne Cooking School in Paris before returning stateside to open Hudson’s in Columbia in 1977.
Hudson’s was one of the first true French restaurants in Columbia, and was considered to be way ahead of its time. Using his restaurant as his platform, he brought fresh, diverse and quality food to the table long before it became trendy or commonplace. He was a practitioner of real French cooking that was mind-boggling at the time. After a short run with Hudson’s, he returned to France to study at the University of Sorbonne in 1985.
Even though he continued to split his time between France and South Carolina for much of his life, Hudson still found plenty of time to mentor chefs between Columbia and Charleston, such as Chef Tim Peters, formerly of Motor Supply Co., and Chef Frank Lee from Slightly North of Broad in Charleston.
“He really opened my eyes to the real French cooking,” Lee says.
Hudson was passionate about whisking young people who showed a spark of interest in cooking off on trips to France, sharing the spirit of the French chef guild that exists there. Recounting an experience from 1981 when Hudson took him on one of these trips, crossing the countryside in a camper van to dine in three-star restaurants, Lee says, “It was a life-altering event that opened my eyes to the upper echelons of haute cuisine.”
Tim Peters also deeply felt the influence of Hudson in his own career — and made the acorn analogy that leads off this column.
Jamie White worked alongside Hudson in the Motor kitchen and counts him as a mentor, too.
“He’s probably forgotten more than I’ll ever even know about cooking,” says White, who is currently at High Cotton in Charleston. “He would take the shirt off his back for you, and he got me this position down here after working together.”
“He changed many a young man or woman’s life to get involved in cooking,” Lee says.
Hudson rejoiced in being a chef and he wove his philosophy on responsibility into his cooking, Less says: To be a chef was to be responsible for using the animal or vegetable and modifying its life force for use in nourishing another life in a positive manner. It lays a lot on the conscience of the chef to approach cooking that way, and those who learned under Hudson all reflect on this acorn of a lesson he planted in each of them early on that has taken deep root in their own careers and lives.
Hudson died June 19 at age 75 after a long battle with prostate cancer.
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