Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy's original inventions.
A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a graphic novel for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.
“I was a child raised by foodies” – so begins Lucy Knisley’s ‘Relish, My Life in the Kitchen’, a collection of graphic food-themed short-stories in Knisley’s graphic novel memoir.
I heard Lucy Knisley speak at Melbourne Writers Festival back in August, and quickly snatched up a copy of ‘Relish’ (which I also got Lucy to sign – and she drew a picture of my favourite food, Turkish delight, along with her signature). And I suppose it’s because I listened to Lucy’s fascinating lecture detailing the long road to graphic-novel publication that I decided to savour my reading of this book.
I sat in the audience as Lucy showed us slides of the many reworked front covers she drew up – different colour and food combinations – and the painstakingly slow task of transcribing her own handwriting onto the storyboard panels. Yes, ‘Relish’ is a 173-page graphic novel that could very easily be read in one sitting. But it’s also an absolutely scrumptious and heartfelt food-memoir that deserves a slow read . . . so, I decided to relish this book, and I’m glad I did.
Here are a collection of coming-of-age stories in the life of Lucy Knisley, triggered by the tantalizing aromas in her mother’s kitchen, or the slick, greasy taste of a smuggled McDonalds French-fry. Lucy’s life is so wrapped up in food – her mother was a caterer, her uncle owned a food shop, and she used to knock back vinegar shots with her father – that she finds many of the big moments in her life were orbited around food or dining occasions.
Like when she discovered the power of baking as ice-breaker to win friends in middle school. Or when she and her father went on a trip to Europe, following her parent’s divorce and her bratty behaviour coincided with her flagrantly eating McDonald’s junk food in front of her horrified foodie father.
A trip to Mexico with her mother and her best friend involved eating fresh eggs over black beans, tortilla and salsa verde . . . but is also remembered for her friend Drew becoming obsessed with Mexican porn magazines, and Lucy getting her period for the first time – effectively marking the time when childhood was left behind.
Peppered throughout the book are hand-drawn recipes – from mum’s pesto to sangria – the recipes actually look pretty easy . . . although I say this as someone who still burns toast and considers opening a cup of yoghurt to be ‘cooking’.
‘Relish’ has been universally praised, and even made the Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book of 2013 list. And it’s easy to see why. Lucy Knisley has created quite the concoction with this book – equal parts heartfelt memoir and laugh-out-loud confessional. She blends food and life in such a tantalizing way, it’s hard not to think of one’s own food-trigger memories in comparison to Lucy’s. This is easily a favourite book of 2013 for me.