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.
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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.
The smells wafting from the stage are guaranteed to be good when Richards stirs the pot. He’s the chef-owner of Krog Street Market stall Richards’ Southern Fried, and, in his debut cookbook, “Soul,” he shares with readers his evolution as a chef while exploring what puts the soul into Southern food.
The blending of cultures in the Southern kitchen is a topic woven into both Diaz’s “Coconuts & Collards: Recipes and Stories From Puerto Rico to the Deep South” as well as “Turnip Greens & Tortillas: A Mexican Chef Spices Up the Southern Kitchen,” a cookbook co-authored by Hernandez, co-owner of Taquería del Sol, and Puckett, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution food editor. The trio will share the stage for what should be a delightful cultural mashup.
“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.”
Those interested in sweets, rather than saltwater, can head to the tent when Anne Byrn, aka the Cake Mix Doctor, discusses the history of baking in the U.S. With her 2016 book “American Cake,” she did a deep dive into cakes of this country. Now, she’s back with “American Cookie,” sharing the recipes and stories behind beloved cookies, candies, wafers and other sugary bites.
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.
The culinary stage isn’t entirely about food. Kevin Begos brings wine to the table. Charlotte Observer food editor Kathleen Purvis will pour on facts and flavors of the South’s burgeoning craft liquor movement. And, there will be bourbon banter from David Danielson, Tim Laird and Alba Huerta. Laird and Danielson co-penned “The Bourbon Country Cookbook.” Huerta is the owner of Houston cocktail bars Julep and The Pastry War, and the author of “Julep,” in which she recounts the tales and traditions that define today’s drinking culture in the American South.
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.
AJC Decatur Book Festival. Aug. 31-Sept. 2. Free. Various venues. decaturbookfestival.com.
Culinary stage: 10 a.m.-6:15 p.m. Sept. 1, and noon-5:45 p.m. Sept. 2, on the MARTA plaza.