Relish by Lucy Knisley
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: I’ve just finished a major kitchen remodel project and it seems that during this time my literary tastes leaned toward books that featured FOOD. I was eating lots of salads and crock pot meals in real life, but in my book world, I was a gourmand. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen (First Second 2013) is a four star example. Author/illustrator Lucy Knisley is the daughter of foodies and has become one herself, albeit a foodie with a McDonald’s french fry addiction. This graphic novel biography of her life with food is published as an adult book but with its coming of age story combined with the college and career exploration it certainly has cross-over appeal to high school students.
After an introduction and an illustrated recipe for spiced tea, the first real panel of the story shoes a baby Lucy sitting on a kitchen counter between a big pot and a crock of utensils, and she is munching on a round of Brie. “I was a child raised by foodies.” And away we go. From making salad dressing with her father every night for dinner to her penchant for dessert, the chronological stories take Lucy from Manhattan restaurant heaven to the rural upstate New York farming with fresh ingredients (and a boring change for a city kid), to a trip to Mexico which marked her passage from childhood to adolescence and art school in Chicago, and more. The brightly illustrated panels are great fun and the conversational, informal narration moves quickly. Each chapter is followed by an illustrated recipe, my favorite has to be the Huevos Rancheros, which features an exploded diagram of the finished product.
When Lucy gets to Chicago and discovers the nirvana that is the Fox & Obel gourmet market I was right with her. I discovered this fabulous place only a few years ago and on my first trip through I took photos of the fromagerie, charcuterie, chocolate shop, bakery and more. I was in love. We have nothing like this in West Michigan and now I never make a trip to Chicago without a stop at Fox & Obel. I loved looking at Lucy’s cartoon rendering of her discovery of this haven for foodies. With the number of teens watching Food TV and the culinary programs in some high schools, this will be popular with many young gourmands and chefs. But non-foodies may get sucked into the joy of cooking after reading this engaging look at the fun to be had with food that doesn’t come in a paper sack at a drive-through window.
Lynn: Like Cindy, I ate this book up! I loved Lucy’s exploration of foods and while I share her father’s revulsion for Big Macs and boxed mac and cheese, I still bonded with her in the way food was a part of every experience she had from travel to teen rebellion. Lucy’s relationships with life and food have something for everyone in fact. I laughed so much over her obsession with the croissants she and her roommate discovered in Venice because I have the same visceral reaction to the glories of REAL french bread and the totally unique odor and taste of the french breakfast coffee with steamed milk that defined breakfast for me during our time in France.
Many young people will appreciate Lucy’s tales of time with her divorced parents and quite a few more will share her discovery of “forbidden” foods like cereal with marshmallows at her friend’s house! I loved the bright expressive illustrations that convey a terrific sense of personality and then there are the recipes! Teens who already cook will find some enticing ones here and teens who don’t may be lured in to try.
This is a delight and should be shared widely — foodies and non-foodies alike will find lots to savor.