We can’t stop taking pictures of our food.
Go online, go to any of the seven social media sites we all seem to be on right now. Food pictures, everywhere. You could almost make a case that the social media platform was engineered to enable us to pass around photos of the spinach salad with honey-roasted pecans, dried cranberries, Bosc pear, bleu cheese and honey Dijon dressing we had for lunch. When we’re using cutting-edge information technology backed by an international network of satellites and fiber optic cables to tell people what we had for lunch, that tells you something: it tells you we are living in an age of really good salads.
But it’s not just snapping a picture of our lunch and hashtagging that we made a grilled cheese with Humboldt Fog goat cheese. Our lives revolve around food. The whole root of human civilization is that if we band together it’s a lot easier to kill and cook a mastodon, and that by the firelight of dinner we discovered socializing and storytelling. The social connection of food meant we had something to share, whether it was memories of the day’s labor or a crust of bread.
So we take Instagrams of our crackers and share links to sausages. But that’s not enough for some, and this year has seen three exciting new graphic novels that take stories of our meals and pictures of our food to a new level.
Amanda Cohen is the chef-owner of Dirt Candy, a vegetable-centric restaurant in New York City. With artist Ryan Dunlavey and journalist Grady Hendrix she’s put together a graphic novel companion to the Michelin-recommended restaurant that’s part memoir, part recipe collection and part essay: “Dirt Candy: A Cookbook.” It’s a look into the nuts and bolts that make a restaurant not only work, but stay open (which, it turns out, is REALLY HARD). In between clusters of great vegan/vegetarian recipes, Cohen answers a number of questions you may have wondered about fancy restaurants, like “What exactly is the French style of cooking?” and “Why does this salad cost $14?” If you know the restaurant, it’s a fun peek behind the kitchen doors and, if not, it’s a great introduction to the mechanics of restaurant operation without having an Englishman stomping around and yelling all the time.
But most of us don’t work in a restaurant, and for that there’s Lucy Knisley’s acclaimed visual memoir “Relish: My Life in the Kitchen.” It’s not her first time making comics about food, as she’s been doing that since her first collection “Radiator Days,” compiled from her time as an SAIC student, but it is her most thoroughly devoted to the subject. The book collects eleven stories from Knisley’s life, rendered in smooth lines and bright colors, each accompanied by recipes rendered in comic form. The stories are intimate and funny, from childhood rebellions to adult aspirations, and the recipes (from basil pesto to huevos rancheros) made simple and accessible by use of the visual form.
Award-winning cartoonist Christophe Blain brings the previous books’ threads of the personal and the professional together in his graphic novel “In the Kitchen with Alain Passard.” The most conventionally journalistic of the three, Blain follows around the acclaimed chef/owner of the Parisian restaurant L’Arpége, watching him at work in the kitchen and his gardens. It differs from “Dirt Candy” though in that Blain approaches Passard less as a business professional and more as an artist at work. It’s a very poetic approach to cooking, and as with the other two is rife with recipes, illustrated with Passard in action serving up langoustine carpaccio and potato paillasse.
The burgeoning genre of culinary comics isn’t just happening in graphic novels. Minicomics like “I Want to Eat Everything” by Jessi Zabarsky (available from Czapbooks) and Sarah Ann Morton’s zythologic travelogue “Geography in a Glass” (found online at sarahannmorton.com) are exploring the world of food and drink in dim sum-sized bites, and cartoonist Sarah Becan has an archived collection of webcomic recipes at her site sauceome.com.
We can’t stop talking about food. But maybe the important thing to take from all of these works is that the best meals are the ones we share with others, just like the best stories.
“Dirty Candy: A Cookbook, Flavor-Forward Food From the Upstart New York City Vegetarian Restaurant”
By Amanda Cohen
Clarkson Potter, 224 pages, $19.99
“Relish: My Life in the Kitchen”
By Lucy Knisley
First Second, 176 pages, $17.99
“In the Kitchen with Alain Passard: Inside the World of a Master Chef”
By Christophe Blain
Chronicle Books, 96 pages, $16.95
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