Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Published: 2013, First Second
Genre: Memoir, Graphic Novel
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The daughter of a chef and a foodie, Lucy’s life has always revolved around food. So it makes sense, then, as she writes her memoir, that it, too, should revolve around food. As she explains: “My most vivid memories consistently jog my brain with the recollection of how things tasted.” Relish tells the story of Lucy’s life, from her early childhood memories (and some memories that were shared with her) to her current unsure (but hopeful) plans for the rest of her life and for the state of American food.
My experiences reading graphic novels are few and far between, but I am very glad that I gave Relish a chance. Knisley’s story is humorous, witty, and surprisingly educational. She shapes each chapter around a specific type of food that influenced her childhood, like Chapter Three, which recounts her efforts as a tween to recreate her mother’s perfect chocolate chip cookies. The way in which each chapter is influenced by a particular food group or experience is well done, and they all tie together quite nicely into a cohesive narrative.
Knisley’s enthusiasm for food is catching and, as mentioned above, educational. She not only takes the time to explain how various foods help shape her life decisions and perceptions of the world, but shares her insight with the readers. She explains how cheese is categorized after spending some time working as a cheesemonger. She goes over the nuances of buying mushrooms from a farmer’s market versus the grocery store. But, best of all, each chapter is accompanied by a recipe for a food that had a strong emphasis in the chapter. Readers are given illustrated recipes for spice tea, her mother’s chocolate chip cookies, sushi rolls, and more. This is where Relish excels: at the intersection between Knisley’s life and real-world applicability of the food being discussed.
Outside of her personal experiences with food, Knisley’s memoir is also very much about the dynamics of her relationship with her mother. When she was a child, her parents separated and Knisley and her mother moved from New York City to rural, upstate New York. Knisley doesn’t necessarily focus on a challenging mother-daughter relationship, but she consistently emphasizes the varied experiences with food that her mother gave her, and how they continue to shape her life. The only downside of the focus on Knisley’s relationship with her mother is that all of her other relationships become viewed much more superficially in comparison, including that of her and her father.
Relish seems a bit unusual as far as memoirs go, considering that Knisley is still quite young (not even 30) and has not endured any truly life-changing ordeals. But it seems more earnest because of those failings, in a way. Knisley discusses how her life has thus far revolved around food, and how she cannot imagine her future to be any less affected by it. She also harbors hope for the future of American food, as our country still tries to figure out what to eat and what types of food to promote. By the end of the book, there’s not necessarily any resolution with regard to Lucy’s life or the culture tied to food here in America, but the novel ends on a hopeful note, and it is clear that Knisley is looking forward to seeing where her life (and American food) goes next.
Definitely recommended for those interested in the culture of American food with a personal touch, who are willing to accept the story being told through a combination of images and text. Knisley’s personal story may not necessarily have much staying power for me, but this was a quick and entertaining read, and I do plan on taking advantage of some of her shared recipes.
Rating: 4 stars