2019 AJC Decatur Book Festival culinary stage offers food for thought

Barbecue, Peaches and Pie, Oh My!

Labor Day weekend promises plenty of fun and entertainment in and around Atlanta. But bookworms know that there is but one place to be: the AJC Decatur Book Festival.

ExploreMore than 250 authors will appear on 13 stages during the 14th annual AJC Decatur Book Festival Aug. 30-Sept. 1.

Festivalgoers who gravitate toward food will undoubtedly follow the smells to the culinary stage, where a talented lineup of cookbook authors, chefs and drink writers will chat about their craft and entertain the crowd with cooking demonstrations. Located again on the MARTA plaza, the stage will see action from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 30, and from noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 1.

Kicking things off on Saturday will be Peter Reinhart, author of the new “Perfect Pan Pizza.” The bread authority has penned a dozen books about baking, including the James Beard Award-winning “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread,” as well as “American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza.” The North Carolina-based culinarian will share his knowledge about mastering pizza dough while demonstrating how to cook it on a Big Green Egg.

Chef Bruce Moffett, a native New Englander now firmly fixed in Charlotte, will discuss how he weaves together northern and southern culinary traditions, the focus of his new cookbook “Bruce Moffett Cooks: A New England Chef in a New South Kitchen.”

Among familiar hometown faces taking the stage this year are big name restaurateurs Pano Karatassos and Ford Fry, both of whom have added cookbook author to their impressive resumes.

Karatassos, executive chef of Kyma and corporate chef for Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, will share stories and recipes featured in his "Modern Greek Cooking: 100 Recipes for Meze, Entrées and Desserts." Many of those dishes which are influenced from his childhood as well as tutelage under esteemed chefs Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Eric Ripert and have become crowd favorites at Karatassos's upscale Greek restaurant in Buckhead.

Since opening JCT Kitchen in 2007, Fry has gone on to build a formidable restaurant empire. His Rocket Farm Restaurants group now operates a dozen concepts across three states — Georgia, Texas and North Carolina – with Tennessee next on the radar.

Fry's casual restaurants Superica, El Felix and, the newest addition, Little Rey, are all inspired and informed by his Texas roots, ones that the Houston native shares in his recently published "Tex-Mex" cookbook. "It's Tex-Mex that makes me feel most at home," he writes.

Whereas Atlanta is Fry’s adopted hometown, the festival will be a sort of homecoming for New Orleans-based chef Tenney Flynn. The Stone Mountain native will return to his old stomping grounds to discuss his new book, “The Deep End of Flavor,” written with former AJC food editor Susan Puckett. Flynn is a highly regarded seafood authority and co-owner of GW Fins seafood restaurant. He’ll discuss his tips and tricks for turning the freshest catch into a delicious dish while demoing how to break down a whole fish.

From barbecue to peaches to pie, there will be plenty of other talk to pique the interest of Southern food lovers. Barbecue legend Sam Jones of Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina will preach the gospel of Carolina barbecue, the topic of his new cookbook, “Whole Hog BBQ,” as the smoke from chicken wings wafts through the tent during his demo.

Lovers of barbecue culture will get an entertaining mouthful of stories from author and veteran journalist Jim Auchmutey. The former longtime AJC reporter and editor and consulting curator for the "Barbecue Nation" exhibit at the Atlanta History Center will discuss his new book, "Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America." Apart from sharing his own family's connection to barbecue and spelling out what defines Georgia barbecue, expect Auchmutey to weave together barbecue's complex connection to race, gender, immigration, commercialization and more.

Meanwhile, chef and food writer Belinda Smith-Sullivan will stick to peaches, the topic of her new book, “Just Peachy.” A granddaughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, she currently lives in Trenton, South Carolina, in the heart of South Carolina’s peach region. Fill up on peach history and learn creative ways to add peaches to everything from breads to beverages – and of course, pie.

You might not expect a duo of doctors to be blue-ribbon bakers, but you'll believe it when you meet Paul Arguin and Chris Taylor. With their bold, unorthodox baking style, the Atlanta-based pair has won hundreds of awards, including the 2017 National Pie Championships title. They share their recipe for success in their mouthwatering "The New Pie: Modern techniques for the classic American dessert."

Also talking desserts will be Elizabeth Karmel. Actually, she’ll be talking cake and steak, the decadent pairing that gives headline to her new special occasions “Steak and Cake” cookbook.

Although not held on the culinary stage, two other discussions during the weekend will focus on food writing. Author Erin Byers Murray will chat about “Grits: A Cultural and Culinary Journey Through the South,” while Ryan Jacobs will speak about “The Truffle Underground: A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus.”

“It’s a diverse representation in terms of cuisine,” said the festival’s programming director Joy Pope about this year’s lineup. “If you’re looking for food, it’s terrific.”

If you’re looking for a good drink, you won’t be disappointed either, especially with Alex Day in the house. Day is the co-owner of the highly regarded Death & Co, with locations in New York and Denver, as well as the Los Angeles-based hospitality group behind such concepts as Nitecap, Walker Inn and Honeycut. He recently penned “The Cocktail Codex: Fundamentals, Formulas, Evolutions” with business partner David Kaplan and writer Nick Fauchald, offering a scientific approach to mixing drinks that earned this bar manual the James Beard Foundation 2019 Book of the Year.

In full disclosure, I’ll be moderating the culinary stage on Saturday. New York Times correspondent Kim Severson will serve as emcee on Sunday.


AJC Decatur Book Festival. Aug. 31-Sept. 1. Free. Various venues. decaturbookfestival.com.

Culinary stage: 10 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Aug. 31, and noon-6 p.m. Sept. 1, on the MARTA plaza.