Cartoonist Lucy Knisley cooks up Relish, a food-centric memoir | Book review

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<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5


Maybe fetal imprinting really does work. You can’t discount it after learning more about crackerjack cartoonist Lucy Knisley, whose mother embraced of gourmet meals and painting while little Lucy was still in utero. Be it nature, nurture or (likely) a mix of both, let’s just be thankful for the results: Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, a comic-book memoir that’s part coming-of-age tale, part travelogue, part cookbook. While Knisley is the progeny of foodies, Relish is what happens when M.F.K. Fisher and Archie have a baby.

A graduate of the School of the Art Institute (and occasional contributor to TOC Kids), Knisley mixes her many geographical influences into this delightful paperback. She chronicles her childhood in New York City and rural Hudson Valley; eventful trips to Mexico (more on that in a minute), Italy and Japan; and her gumption in manifesting gourmet experiences in the Windy City despite a college-kid budget. Through it all, she leavens her mix of amusing anecdotes and keen observations with deceptively simple artwork, accented by whimsical lettering and a gorgeous color palette. Occasionally, the pages appear overcrowded with text, but for the most part, the layouts form a perfectly proportioned feast. And each chapter ends with a cartooned recipe (chocolate-chip cookies, huevos rancheros, marinated lamb).

The book is easily suitable for the junior-high-and-up crowd (who might recall hearing about Knisley thanks to her awesomely ambitious Summharry, a distillation of the entire Harry Potter saga into one enormous comic-book poster). Her fun drawings and zippy prose might inspire kids to become a bit more adventurous, or at least more thoughtful, about what they eat. They’ll surely chuckle as they relate to the conflicts an adolescent Lucy has with her dad in Italy: Just to bug him, she buys McDonald’s for breakfast while he’s still asleep, then eats it in front of him as he's waking up. (Read an exclusive excerpt of that sequence, plus one of her recipes, below.)

The book is also accessible to middle schoolers, though parents might want to consider ahead of time one particular chapter. During a trip to Mexico, Lucy and her lifelong friend Drew, both on the verge of puberty, experience their own coming-of-age journeys: He discovers a treasure trove of Mexican pornography, while Lucy has her first period. It’s potentially risqué material but handled in a humorous PG manner—and there’s a great punchline at the end validating the wisdom of moms everywhere.

Knisley’s ecumenical take on eating won’t satisfy everyone. For example, she loves foie gras (she indulges guiltlessly, thanks to an encounter with geese and hornets practically torn from The Hunger Games) but she also enjoys Mickey D’s because “we all sometimes need a little comfort grease.” The only thing she won’t eat? Miracle Whip. Hey, you’ve got to draw a line somewhere.

Knisley will make three Chicago appearances this month: Monday, April 8, at 826CHI in Wicker Park; Wednesday, April 10, at Challenger's Comics in Bucktown; and Thursday, April 11, at Women and Children First in Andersonville. Relish (published by First Second Books) is cover-priced at $18.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen (excerpt)


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