Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen cover

I have wanted, for several months, to tell you how much I enjoyed reading Lucy Knisley’s new food autobiography, Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, as I hoped I would. However, it was so good that I was afraid to try telling you how and why; I didn’t feel that any of my words could live up to the book’s quality or capture how much I enjoyed the read.

Relish explores food as memory and meaning. In chapters punctuated with illustrated recipes (which relate to something in the chapters and sound really tasty), Lucy tells of key moments in her life, all of which revolve around food. She remembers Mom’s work as a restaurant chef, foraging for berries, raising chickens, baking as self-comfort, traveling to Rome with Dad and Mexico with Mom, trying weird Japanese food as a teen, and working as a catering assistant or at a farmers’ market.

An uncle ran a gourmet food store. Dinner parties were populated by artists. When the parents divorce, Lucy and her mother move from the city to the country and begin gardening. It’s not just a portrait of the New York food scene at a now-gone point in time, but a way to sink into a lifestyle many of us will never know.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen cover

Like many children of well-meaning parents of a certain era, Lucy’s discovery of junk food (through a friend without such discerning guardians) leads to a life-long appreciation, although given her background, it’s one that’s balanced against all her other food loves. One strange little chapter, about sharing food cravings with her mother, reveals new insights (on a re-read) about relationships and gender and inheritance. Making food for someone is about love and sharing, as several chapters illustrate, and so I’m not sure what to think about the one focusing on her father, who mostly eats in restaurants but still seeks out his ex-wife’s cooking.

Lucy’s colors are amazing. Her lines are deceptively simple, her expressions poignant, but it’s her palette that I love best. The recipes show the ingredients and techniques in well-composed steps. Even a roast leg of lamb seems possible to achieve. Although I already knew how to make pesto or chocolate chip cookies, the recipes reminded me I should do so more often. And assembling ingredients is more fun when they’re little pictures instead of a boring list of quantities. You’ll even learn how to make sushi rolls and sangria and categorize cheeses.

It’s rare that a book you’re anticipating greatly lives up to its promise and even exceeds your expectations. Relish is one of those cases. After reading it, I’m inspired to pay more attention to what I eat and what it means. (The publisher provided a review copy.)


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