Decatur Book Festival culinary track spotlights Black cookbook authors and food writers

Credit: Susi Gott Seguret

Credit: Susi Gott Seguret

Since its launch in 2006, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival has grown to become one of the largest independent book festivals in the country. But, the pandemic has forced a change of plans for what had become a Labor Day tradition. This year’s festival has gone virtual, including the popular culinary track.

The smoke and smells from cooking demonstrations won’t waft from a stage erected on Decatur Square this year, but, under the leadership of festival Executive Director Joy Pope, programming remains impressive.

The 2020 culinary track pays tribute to Black cookbook authors and food writers with 10 hourlong events featuring nationally renowned food historians, chefs, and food and beverage writers.

Food talks kick off Sept. 6 with an event featuring Toni Tipton-Martin discussing her latest book, “Jubilee: Recipes From Two Centuries of African American Cooking,” with former AJC food editor Susan Puckett.

Tipton-Martin also will lead a series of chats with Black figures from the restaurant industry, including chef and author Todd Richards (Sept. 9), Houston chef Chris Williams (Sept. 18) and Atlanta bartender Tiffanie Barriere (Sept. 21).

On Sept. 12, lawyer turned food writer Adrian Miller will discuss his deep dive into presidential foodways, “The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, From the Washingtons to the Obamas.”

“Every president has had an African American cooking for them in some capacity,” Miller said. “If you were to step back and put all the White House cooks together in one room, over the course of history, most would be African American women.”

A Sept. 16 panel will have three prominent female chef-authors — Virginia Willis, Nathalie Dupree and Belinda Smith-Sullivan — talking about the past and future of Southern cuisine, including African American contributions to the region’s foodways.

“The three of us are friends enough that I feel like the public is going to get an insight into a more personal conversation,” Willis said. “We feel comfortable talking to one another about this, and perhaps more challenging aspects of that dark history. In addition, Nathalie has, for a long time, advocated the acknowledgement not only of racial divides, but also class divides with Southern cooking.”

(Full disclosure: I will be moderating that panel, as well as the discussion with Miller.)

Also planned are interviews with chef and opera singer Alexander Smalls, who unites his passions for food and music in his “Meals, Music, and Muses” (Sept. 8); food photographer Alan Batt, discussing his “Toques in Black: 101 Black Chefs in America” with New York Times correspondent Kim Severson (Sept. 30); and drink writer Brad Thomas Parsons, author of “Amaro” and “Last Call,” mixing it up with Atlanta food journalist Mike Jordan (Sept. 23).

Cooking demos, a draw in years past, haven’t been nixed entirely. On Sept. 13, viewers can watch Todd Richards prepare recipes from “Soul” on the patio of his new restaurant, Lake & Oak Neighborhood BBQ.

Grabbing a bite also has been part of the book festival experience, and three Decatur restaurants are keeping that tradition alive, by featuring dishes from recipes by some of this year’s participating authors.

Credit: Bartee Lamar

Credit: Bartee Lamar

Steinbeck’s Ale House will prepare oxtails, turnips and okra plated with buttered jasmine rice from Smalls’ “Meals, Music, and Muses” on Sept. 8; the Brick Store Pub will feature Richards’ onion broth with onion dumplings and braised chicken wings from “Soul” on Sept. 9; and the Deer and the Dove will offer two dishes — smashed fried okra and benne seed crisps — from Willis’ “Secrets of the Southern Table” on Sept. 16. Dishes will be available for both dine-in and takeout. The featured cookbook will be given to the first five guests that order the special dish and mention the Decatur Book Festival.

In addition, Dancing Goats is featuring a specialty drink at its Decatur location for the duration of the festival. Dubbed the G&T, it is a cappuccino seasoned with ginger and turmeric. Also, every customer who purchases a pack of Dancing Goats coffee at the Decatur location will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win one of five books provided by the Decatur Book Festival. And, Kimball House will have a special menu item from Parsons’ “Last Call” on Sept. 23.

AJC Decatur Book Festival. Sept. 4-Oct. 4. Free; registration required; via Crowdcast.

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