Atlanta is fortunate to host an expanding food community. The city boasts some notable restaurants and a number of chefs of uncommonly high quality. And there are certainly more people than ever for whom the food culture matters. If you doubt that, try getting an eleventh-hour Saturday night reservation at one of the area’s finer restaurants. And don’t write me with your complaints when you can’t secure a table.
Further evidence of the enthusiasm for a “new” cuisine comes with a couple of cookbooks from local writers that have appeared recently. One is by the delightful Virginia Willis called “Basic to Brilliant, Y’All,” a book that offers some familiar Southern dishes with innovative and intriguing ways to present them at home. The other is by the very fine chef at Five and Ten and Empire State South South, Hugh Acheson. His just-published book is “A New Turn in the South,” with wonderfully engaging ways of preparing seasonal and local ingredients.
Both books are special, as are their authors. (Both have appeared this fall at the Georgia Center for the Book to talk about their work; hope you were there.) Both show off creativity and an extraordinary craft. And both have collected the sort of praise from a culinary aristocracy that others would die for. Hoorahs fill the back of Virginia’s book from the likes of Bobby Flay and Frank Stitt. Hugh gets accolades from Mario Batali, Scott Peacock and Matt and Ted Lee.
These are both books that tell us something about who we are. There are few things more elemental to life than eating after all, and few things providing refined pleasure more than good eating. Both books come with stories, too, stories of how the authors came to their kitchens, how family played key roles in learning, and how hard work and persistence does pay off.
As we go into the holiday season, a time filled with thoughts of food, you might want to look closely at what Virginia and Hugh have produced: these are not coffee table books, they are literally and figuratively kitchen books. I suspect they’re likely to make you want to get your cooking on.