- Craig Graziano
Lucy Knisley's graphic novel Relish: My Life in the Kitchen zigzags between biography, cookbook, travelogue, and manifesto of all things culinary. What's more, her fun, vibrantly colorful artwork often made me very hungry. This is the mark of success for such a book.
Relish explores every aspect of food's vast appeal, whether it is for purposes of comfort, nourishment, or to just satisfy that insatiable craving for sautéed mushrooms.
The daughter of a mom-chef and a dad with a very refined palate, Knisley had a multitude of amazing sensory experiences from a young age. She was born in New York City, where you can find hundreds of different food cultures within a single square mile.
After her parents split, Knisley moved upstate with her mother where they embraced a simpler yet no less rewarding lifestyle that revolved around vegetable gardens, keeping chickens, and gleaning unwanted fruit from yards.
Even if the book only focused on Knisley's experiences as a child in New York State, it would be a worthwhile read. But Knisley goes on to explain many other culinary adventures, including those in Mexico, Japan, and Italy where she finds a croissant so delectable that she obsessively tries to recapture its spark at home, baking hundreds. She also spends some time in Chicago which, of course, has its own burgeoning food culture.
There is also a look at the addictive powers of junk food, something that our author discovered at a later age due to her parents' refined tastes. The controversy of fast food is nothing new, but Knisley's take on it is both funny and honest. The book is always a celebration, never a cynical screed.
The final winning flourish that Knisley adds to her work is to end each chapter with easy-to-follow instructions on the making of a certain dish. The recipes are all illustrated, helping to emphasize each ingredient and step. Chai tea, leg of lamb, pesto, chocolate chip cookies, and huevos rancheros are just part of the deliciousness that you can learn to make with Relish. It will definitely ensure that I return to this book again simply so I can try my hand at sushi!
If you enjoy Relish and you'd like to hear more of Knisley's travels, French Milk is her first book, a visual recounting of a six-week trip in Paris that she took with her mother. You can find more of her work online. I'm certainly glad that there is more of Knisley's work to read. Like the best of meals, I did not want this book to end.