Relish: The Graphic Novel For Foodies

The New York-based cartoonist Lucy Knisley latest work is a joyous ode to one of the great pleasures of the flesh.
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The New York-based cartoonist Lucy Knisley latest work is a joyous ode to one of the great pleasures of the flesh.

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Elvis Costello once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. One can only speculate as to his thoughts regarding writing about food. After all, eardrums are one thing, tastebuds are entirely another. And with an explosion of books, TV shows and blogs in recent years all dedicated to eating, is there even room for another voice on the topic? As it turns out there is, in the shape of 28-year-old Lucy Knisley, a comic book artist who has chronicled her intense love of food through her new graphic novel, Relish.

Knisley's gastronomic credentials are impeccable; the only child of a pair of foodies and the daughter of a professional chef, she grew up amid crucial formative eras of culinary endeavour in her native New York and then later in Chicago, before eventually returning home to enjoy the many eateries of her birthplace and her mother's home cooking . Relish is part memoir, part love letter and part celebration-for-the-sake-of-it, all in praise of the sacred trinity of cooking, eating and dining out. Accompanied by her warm, vivid illustrations, she traces a path from her early memories of keeping her mother in the kitchen to food adventures on holiday in Italy, Mexico and Japan and many experiences beyond. She punctuates the book with lovingly-drawn, idiot-proof recipes for everything from chocolate chip cookies to Sangria and sushi. Her message is clear; what she loves, she wants to share, as she believes that the joy of food is an experience which can be made better through sharing.

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Alongside being a gifted illustrator, Knisley is an equally talented writer. Her memories of food contain reflections about the human condition and our basic needs and appetites, which she expresses in a language that is simple yet profound. This is a young woman with a passionate, articulate knowledge of eating but she never once comes across as a bore. For Lucy Knisley, a serving of French fries from McDonalds has the ability to be every bit as gratifying as foie gras (her love of the latter is explained in part by a comedic encounter as a child with some bad-tempered geese out for blood).

And her enthusiasm is infectious. Reading this book galvanised my appetite but also infused me with a yearning to savour and explore what I ate, and I am itching to try the recipes she has included (I'm sure she has a potential bestseller on her hands if she decides to put out another book made up of illustrated recipes alone). There is little, if any, fault to be found with Relish. The worst thing I can say about is that I was sad when it ended. It left me, quite literally, hungry for more.

Relish is out now, published by First Second Books.