Relish by Lucy Knisley is a food memoir illustrated through taste memories, which means…there are a lot of drawings of her eating food. It also doubles as a scandalous ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign.
I assumed the author was a cook, but she’s actually more of an eater just like the rest of us. The daughter of two foodies, she has more appreciation than knowledge of her subject and that’s okay by me. I was curious enough to check this out of the library and glad to have it on a 2 hour train ride when some angry-looking fellow boarded at Newark airport with a laundry bag filled not only with laundry, but toiletries, shoes and other travel must-haves. First thought, ‘Interesting choice of luggage.’ Second thought, ‘Dear god, don’t let him sit next to me.’ Which is basically an invitation.
So I opened this book to a random page and tried to look uninterruptably immersed. It took me a little too long to realize that I happened to be staring at Mexican porn – actually it was Knisley’s depiction of Mexican porn magazine covers, but you get the picture.
At 7 years old Lucy and her Chef mom moved to the Hudson Valley while her father the food critic stayed in NYC. From watching her mom bake all kinds of fancy cookies, to helping her at the farmer’s market and foraging for roadside goodies, the beginning pages monkey bar through a childhood filled with good eating.
In lieu of a cohesive narrative, the reader snacks on anecdotes. There’s a trip to Mexico post-divorce where Lucy and her friend discovered the ancient wonders of eating tamales on a curb, PMS and photographs of nekid ladies. We also learn essential bits of travel trivia. How did I live for 32 years without knowing there are panty machines in Tokyo? There should be a world wide public service announcement. All this time I’ve schlepped and gagged at perfumed shops like an American fool. Can we please get some panty vending machines in the U.S.? Shoes, too. I’m not a fan of shoe stores.
Almost forgot the best part. Relish is full of graphic recipes that actually look pretty tasty, like chai and huevos rancheros.
The flow of the illustrations adds movement and the style of is very accessible. The cutesy tone and lack of substance was annoying, but I’m definitely not the target audience. Kids, hipsters and aspiring foodies would probably enjoy this. Rather than memoir, this struck me as more of a surface-level coffee table tribute.
Traveling angry laundry man got off the train around Red Bank, so I had a few more stops to mine my own food memories. The one that stands out the most is from a long round trip road trip to Florida in the summer with no AC. My grandma and uncle took my sisters and I to Disney World when I was 47 inches tall, just high enough to ride Space Mountain. The only thing this now-vegetarian ate for lunch and dinner during the entire 7-day trip was fried chicken and sprite. I still remember the insatiable, inexplicable need I had for that first bite again and again. A Chicago-style veggie hot dog outside of The Field museum is a close second.
Since buying, cooking and eating food is such a visual experience, I’d love to discover more books in this genre, preferably ones with something to say.