Quiz: which local book festival is held outside (in the lovely-weather, low-humidity Spring); attracts nationally-known authors; and has free parking? That event that used to be down on the Mall only has the author thing in common with the Gaithersburg Book Festival, which fulfills all three criteria.
It’s a homey but not home-made vibe on the grounds of City Hall one Saturday in May. Ten pavilions full of author talks run non-stop from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. A new-book sales tent, a massive used-book sale, exhibitors, author signings, a kid’s activities area, and a row of food trucks complete the venue.
And in lieu of the First Lady, there is Gaithersburg Council Member Mike Sesma, introducing speakers. I asked him why the chefs were just talking, not cooking, as they had done at previous GBFs. He couldn’t give me a satisfactory answer, but encouraged me to volunteer to work on next year’s festival, and put my energy where my mouth is. I’m thinking about it.
The Rachael Carson Pavilion had three chefs scheduled to entertain their fans and talk up their books. Bryan Voltaggio was engaging as he revealed his basic rules for cooking: use a scale to weigh ingredients instead of measuring by volume; check your oven temperature; involve others in prep work and clean-up (easy for him to say!).
When asked which recipe in his book (Home: Recipes to Cook With Family and Friends) was his favorite, he pointed immediately to son Thatcher’s contribution: cola-braised potatoes – not something I would normally be tempted to try. The book also includes instructions for Family Meal’s famous fried chicken.
Would he spill secrets about his home life? His wife wanted him to call the book “Occasionally Home” because he was on the road so much shuttling among his restaurants and raising money for school breakfasts (with the No Kid Hungry organization). But he promised to reform!
Next up was Nora Pouillon, speaking winsomely about her autobiography (My Organic Life), which I just reviewed here, so I will only report that she said, “I thought you had to be nearly dead to write your memoirs, but I thought I could inspire others.” She is a long way from any intimations of mortality.
And then Cathal Armstrong (My Irish Table) spoke amusingly about how he fell accidentally into cooking. He spent two months trying to learn computer programming but found he was a really good restaurant dishwasher – and worked his way up from there. At nineteen, he opened his first restaurant. It only lasted for ten months, but he learned a lot! He came to the U.S. for a summer job in 1990. “It’s been a long summer!”
Now, in addition to running his three restaurants, he represents the U.S. with the State Department’s Culinary Diplomacy program.
Although he did not cook for us, he did bring samples. His recipe for lemon cake came from his Aunt Joan. Delicious.
A rose was a rose over at the Gertrude Stein Pavilion. Although Mary Norris’ book had nothing to do with cooking, it (Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen) had me at the title. She is a long-time copy editor at the New Yorker, and obviously shares a dislike of a certain grammatical error I find very annoying. Her talk was both amusing and educational – did you know that there is a pencil-sharpener museum in Logan, Ohio? She showed us a crown made for her by a friend, composed of a collection of commas of many typefaces, all different. At the urging of the audience, she modeled it for us.
And so ended a thoroughly enjoyable day. I’m looking forward to next year. Maybe there will even be chef demos.