Knisley, Lucy. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen.

NY: First Second, 2013.

I’m a big fan of Knisley’s graphic novels, even though they usually contain no fiction whatsoever. She writes from her own experiences, often in a confessional style, and does it very well indeed.

She’s the daughter of a restaurant chef and a gourmet caterer, so she grew up surrounded by serious foodies, learning to eat raw oysters as a toddler and taking delight in fois gras after being harassed by vicious farm geese. She was carrying serving trays and hanging out with big-name New York restaurateurs when she was ten.

Then her parents divorced (though they apparently stayed friends) and her mother moved herself and her daughter to rural upstate New York (though Rhinebeck doesn’t mean “rural” the same way Nebraska or West Texas does), where Lucy became a country girl, rather to her own surprise, picking berries and running a stall in a farmers market. And learning about pre-sweetened junk food from school friends, to her mother’s horror. (She had been taking homemade tomato soup to school for lunch.)

But she’s been around, too. She and her mother visited old friends who had moved to Tokyo, where she discovered just how truly different Japanese food is from the Euro-American style. When she was in college, she backpacked around Europe with a friend and no money and no real plans — and discovered the world’s best croissants in Venice. And then there was that trip to the interior of Mexico, where she learned to love street food from vendors’ carts. Finally, when she was pursuing an art degree in Chicago, she found a job at a gourmet food shop, and became rather an expert cheesemonger — just as her mother had done thirty years before.

Scattered through the book are quirky recipes — more like mini-adventures, really, all nicely illustrated and with comments based on deep experience. In fact, the graphics throughout the narrative are, as always, exactly suited to the memories Lucy chooses to relate and reconsider. She’s a thoughtful, ruminative person, and it shows in both her text and her art. This book has won all sorts of awards, made the New York Times bestseller list, and received a YA award from the ALA. Yes, you can take that as a recommendation.


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