Relish (First Second)

Lucy Knisley captures her life in the kitchen in this food-filled memoir.




174 pgs., color; $17.99
(W / A: Lucy Knisley)
Lucy Knisley grew up around food and art: her mother worked for David Bouley, her father was a literacy professor and gourmet, her uncle ran a gourmet food store in TriBeCa with the help of a workforce including many punk band musicians, and dinner parties including an impressive array of chefs and other artistic types were a regular at their house. Given this background, it’s not surprising that tastes and smells form a large part of her favorite memories, and she shares some of those memories, along with selected recipes, in Relish: My Life in the Kitchen.
Let me say right off the bat that Relish is great fun to read even if you’re not a foodie, because Knisley has a delightful narrative and artistic style, the former revealing a kinship with Alison Bechdel’s lighter work, while the latter is heavily influenced by the French tradition of ligne claire or “clear line” and favors a bright palette and straightforward layouts with lots of annotations. You can sense how much she loved making salad dressing each night with her father (standing on a chair so she could reach the butcher block, and tossing back shots of Kressi vinegar just like Dad), or how impressed her grade school classmates were when her Mom served not cupcakes, but a crème brulée, and proceeded to carmelize it with a blowtorch. In fact, the real danger in this book is that you may find yourself feeling jealous that she had such a cool childhood while you were stuck with Chef Boyardee and Evening at Pops.
But making comparisons never pays, so my advice is to just enjoy Knisley’s representations of her experiences, especially since she doesn’t hide her failings, nor those of her family. When her parents divorced and she moved with her mother to the countryside, she seems to have been the sulkiest brat on the prairie for some time, an act revived during a much-resented teenage trip to Italy with her father. Neither is she above enjoying the charms of junk food: Pixie Sticks were a childhood favorite, and she taunted her father by bringing McDonald’s back to their hotel room during that ill-fated European trip, demonstrating that she knew exactly how to push his buttons. So Knisley doesn’t present herself as a model of perfection, but is willing to share the ups and downs of her life, and is able to do so amusingly and with insight.
And with recipes. I haven’t tried any of them, but I think that may not be the point—instead, each recipe is introduced as one aspect of a memory. The finished products look so tempting that you want to try them right away, even if it’s easier to google a recipe for pesto, or sangria, or whatever, instead of propping this book open in your kitchen. So the recipes may serve primarily as inspiration, but that’s fine: if Relish helps awaken, or reawaken, your joy in cooking and food and sharing meals with others, it’s more than done its job.
The sole extra in Relish is a fumetti using family photos to show you the real people and places featured in the comic. It’s a real trip down memory lane, and almost as much fun as the main comic itself. | Sarah Boslaugh

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