From Dragon Con to laser shows and fireworks at Stone Mountain Park, Labor Day weekend promises plenty of fun and entertainment in and around Atlanta. For book lovers, there is but one place to be: the AJC Decatur Book Festival.
There will be book signings, author readings, panel discussions, poetry slams, writing workshops and an interactive children’s area.
But, for those who love food, the culinary stage is a highlight of the festival. Located again on the MARTA plaza, the stage will see action from 10 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. Sept. 1, and from noon to 5:45 p.m. Sept. 2.
This year’s lineup is full of talented cookbook authors, drink writers and chefs.
Things will get off to a sizzling start Saturday with barbecue guru Steven Raichlen. For the second year in a row, the author of the best-selling "Barbecue! Bible" cookbook series and 2016 Barbecue Hall of Fame inductee will use techniques from his latest book, "Project Fire," to show attendees how to up their grilling game.
The focus on flames, smoke and meat will continue Sunday, when Tuffy Stone shares his wealth of barbecue know-how. Stone is a five-time World Barbecue Champion and co-owner of Q Barbecue restaurants in Richmond. With the debut of “Cool Smoke,” he now can add cookbook author to his résumé.
“The work was so much greater than I realized,” Stone said of seeing his book come to fruition. “It’s such a personal thing. By the time I was done with the process, and people held the book for the first time, it was like going onto a stage with no clothes on.”
Rest assured, Stone will be clothed when he goes onto the stage, cooking ribs on a Big Green Egg and speaking about the importance of smoke as it relates to barbecue. "We mismanage smoke," he said. The lesson he hopes to teach: Treat smoke like salt and pepper.
Folks like Stone and Raichlen have followers around the world, but local gastro talent will be well represented on the culinary stage. “Our goal of growing this part of the festival — to be world famous in culinary publishing — is rooted in the talent we have here,” festival Executive Director Julie Wilson said.
This year has seen the release of numerous cookbooks from hometown culinarians, including Todd Richards, Eddie Hernandez, Susan Puckett and Von Diaz. All of them will make an appearance.
“You can’t put two more similar books together,” Wilson said.
As part of its programming each year, the festival brings in a chef to demo a recipe from "The Taste of Country Cooking," the iconic cookbook by the late Edna Lewis. Last year, Mashama Bailey, executive chef and partner at The Grey in Savannah, cooked up an Edna Lewis creation. This year, it's Duane Nutter's turn to honor the grand dame of Southern cooking. Formerly the executive chef of acclaimed One Flew South at Hartsfield-Jackson airport, Nutter relocated to Mobile in 2017 to open Southern National. The restaurant's menu combines Southern traditions with global influences; it was named a 2018 James Beard Foundation semifinalist as best new restaurant. Nutter also is a true comedian, so expect a bellyful of laughs, too.
Plenty more Southern-focused cooking and conversation awaits. Chef and cookbook author Virginia Willis will share the stage with North Carolina farmer and chef Jamie DeMent to discuss the modern Southern table. And, André Joseph Galant will offer insights into aquaculture on the southeastern coast, which he explores in his new "A High Low Tide: The Revival of a Southern Oyster."
This summer has brought a bounty of cookbooks with international flair, and the culinary stage takes a journey to Spain with the appearance of Marti Buckley, author of "Basque Country: A Culinary Journey Through a Food Lover's Paradise." The Alabama native will pick apart pintxos and other food traditions she learned while living in the Basque region of northern Spain for seven years.
All that food and drink talk is sure to get your taste buds salivating. Although you can’t sample what gets cooked on the culinary stage, you can hit up the adjacent Culinary Village to find nibbles from some of Georgia’s best artisan food producers.
Ligaya Figueras is the AJC's senior editor for Food, Dining and Living. Prior to joining the AJC in 2015, she was the executive editor for St. Louis-based culinary magazine Sauce. She has worked in the publishing industry since 1999 and holds degrees from St. Louis University and the University of Michigan.