Books & Cooks For those hungry to learn more about various cuisines, the Baltimore Book Festival features an array of chefs and cookbook authors.

September 23, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

CLARIFICATION

Cookbook author Bobby Flay has canceled his appearance at the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend, citing unexpected travel conflicts. Notification was received too late for inclusion in an article about the festival in today's A La Carte section.

Visitors to the 3rd annual Baltimore Book Festival this weekend will find a smorgasbord for the mind and for the palate, with chefs and cookbook authors whose specialties cover the globe, from Maryland to Italy and from Asia to South America.

Among the culinary and literary lights will be the well-known and well-established, such as chef and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich, who shares her expertise on the cooking of Northern Italy, and the new and up-and-coming, such as Rafael Palomino, who specializes in the cuisine of Latin and South America.

"I think it's going to be a lot of fun," said Judith Benn Hurley, a Philadelphia writer who focuses on natural health and herbal remedies, and whose book is "Healing Secrets of the Seasons" (William Morrow, 1998, $27).

Her work emphasizes new knowledge about the content of foods - their chemical makeup - and its relationship to human well-being. Hurley is bringing along a big basket of herbs and vegetables and plans to offer festival-goers "plenty of generous information" about them, which she picked up while studying herbal and culinary lore in China, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Hawaii and the American Southwest.

Despite the diversity of her travels, she said, the consensus was clear: "People say the same thing. It's all about balancing your body" with natural substances. That means using purple cone flower (echinacea) to strengthen the immune system, thyme tea to relieve a stuffy head, and the strengthening compounds in broccoli to ward off autumn blahs.

The book festival takes over Mount Vernon Place Saturday and Sunday for two days of book-signings, author talks, poetry reading, storytelling, sales of books of all descriptions, live entertainment and talk about and demonstrations on preparing food, among other things. The cook and cookbook section of the festival, called Food for Thought, is one of three themed areas. (The others are Maryland's Children, and the Book Festival Cabaret and Brew Garden.)

Hurley, Bastianich and Palomino are all newcomers to the event, as are Giuliano Bugialli (one of the staunchest proponents of traditional Italian cuisine), James Peterson, known for his deeply researched and exhaustive books on single topics, and Bobby Flay, who will be championing the Mediterranean cuisine featured at his New York restaurants Mesa Grill and Bolo.

Bastianich comes from the far northeastern part of Italy, bordering Austria and the former Yugoslavia. That's the area she focuses on in her new book, "Lidia's Italian Table" (William Morrow, 1998, $26), and in her new public television series based on the book, set to begin airing soon. It's an area that's less familiar to most Americans, she said, so she wanted people to "know a little bit of the land, the people, the history."

Bastianich plans to demonstrate the art of making risotto, the creamy Italian rice dish, in the book festival's demonstration kitchen. She devoted a whole show in her series to each of the great Italian grain dishes - risotto, polenta and pasta. She didn't want to be locked into a format, she said, but she did insist on one thing: that the series be taped in her home.

"It's comfortable," she said of the setting. "I know the temperature of the oven, I know the distance from the sink to the stove." Being assured of her surroundings, she said, freed her to talk to viewers about the food.

In addition, she said, she made sure the recipes were invitingly simple, with few steps. "I want people to make my recipes, to capture some of my flavors."

Palomino, who's from Bogota, Colombia, has an evangelist's zeal for spreading information about the cuisine of Latin and South America - favorite foods such as aji, a hot pepper sauce, seviche, fish that is "cooked" in an acid marinade, and chimichurri, "South American pesto."

These are the flavors featured in his new cookbook, "Bistro Latino" (William Morrow, 1998, $25), and at his New York restaurant Sonora.

"I believe very much that this is the cuisine of the 21st century," he said. "It's light and full of flavor."

Flay, whose previous experience with Baltimore consists of one trip to the Preakness (he liked it), said he's looking forward to introducing people to the family-style meals featured in his new book, ("From My Kitchen to Your Table: Bold Dishes for Casual Entertaining," Clarkson Potter, 1998, $32.50). His goal is to provide menus for which many dishes and steps can be done in advance, so the cook gets out of the kitchen and joins family or friends at the table.

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