£12.99, First Second
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, By Lucy Knisley
Sunday 30 June 2013
Week four in my adventures in using every single pan in any given kitchen and, on a cartoon high after re-reading some old Calvin and Hobbes, aka my Ulysses, I plump to road-test a comic-book cookbook.
Or, more accurately, a graphic food memoir with added recipes, in which NYC illustrator Knisley draws on her foodie background – chef-cum-caterer mum, gastronome dad, pickle-maker grandma – and serves up strips of coming-of-age anecdotes with a culinary inflection. There are tales of first periods and Mexican street-food, familial fallouts over McDonald's and post-college uncertainty allayed by cheese.
To use an elevator pitch: it's Nige Slater's Toast as re-drawn by the lovechild of Lena Dunham and Wes Anderson. Which is to say that it's twee, hipster-ish, scattered with exclamation marks and bloody wonderful. A recollection of childhood which, for once, is authentically childlike, I loved its Hergé-esque drawings and artfully artless prose: "Eating oysters," she says, putting restaurant critics out of business, "is like consuming cold liquid metal, the way I imagine the T-1000 robot from Terminator would have tasted but saltier."
Meanwhile, the cartoon-rendered recipes for simple dishes such as huevos rancheros and mushrooms on toast function, above all else, as imperatives to just cook – here, now, and for its own joyful sake.
My here and now, on finishing the book, was a rainy afternoon on a cottage holiday with friends in the Lake District; I plumped to make Knisley's "Best Chocolate Chip Cookies". And, duly, they lived up to their title, their flavour benefiting from Knisley's suggestion of a good whack of salt both pre- and post- baking.
"Fierce," said one tester. "Fit," said another. "Life changing," said one more. "As good as 'Get Lucky'," I offered, possibly exaggerating.
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