Life post-college is hard, full of big choices and bigger disappointments. So when aspiring writer Ben Cook can’t get a job, his life takes a major left turn into the culinary arts. It may not be what he planned, but maybe a hot sous chef and an affinity for flavours will give him the life he really wants!
Chef’s Kiss is an adorable, slow burn of a graphic novel. Written by Jarrett Melendez with art by Danica Brine, colours by Hank Jones, and letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, it’s a coming-of-age story mixed with some romance, and baked goods (not unlike Bloom). While the love story may seem to be in the driver’s seat, this isn’t purely about the pursuit of a partner, but explores how difficult it can be to maintain all of your relationships in times of change.
Don’t come to Chef’s Kiss looking for the drama of The Bear or Kitchen Nightmares. While there is a burly chef shouting orders and the spectre of disappointed parents hovering over proceedings, this is very much a warm-hearted fantasy where a scheming pet pig can make or break you.
Brine’s art is crisp and expressive and put me in mind of the work of renowned superhero artist Tom Grummett (DC’s The New Titans, Superboy among many more). It’s a perfect style for a teen rom-com that harkens back to a more optimistic outlook. Brine’s figures are all handsomely rendered with a well-defined, classic appeal. Jones’ colours compliment the line art with restraint, giving the story a rosy, almost sepia hue. For those wanting a bit more spice, hunt down the alternate cover by Kevin Wada.
Melendez really takes the time to get into the lead character Ben’s head. His struggle to find post-graduate work and the endless conundrum of “how do you get experience if no one will hire you without experience?” is a familiar one, but in the sanitary space of this kitchen fantasy it feels natural and realistic. The fumbled flirtations with Liam, the tattooed but clean-cut sous chef, are equally familiar but adorable nonetheless.
I really appreciated Ben’s circle of friends. Not only were they supportive, but also questioning of his choices. Part of the story is about how Ben has to juggle tending to his old relationships while also enjoying the new world, and new people he’s being exposed to. The love story isn’t just about landing Liam, but about how to maintain the bond with your friends and also learning to love yourself.
Of course the real stand out of the book is Watson the, well… let’s just call him a “food critic”. Watson elevates the book from a fairly vanilla romance into something a bit sillier and more unique. The other star of the show is the food. Melendez fills the book with delicious details and Brine draws the dishes as beautifully as the people. You’ll swear you can smell the fresh pastries coming out of the oven.
Chef’s Kiss isn’t revolutionary, but it’s just very, very well done, and I can see why the simple charms of the book won over GLAAD and scored it a nomination for Outstanding Graphic Novel this year. While other books may have stronger claims to being more important, meaningful, sexier or funnier, Chef’s Kiss is all about the alchemy of talents doing their jobs perfectly and making a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. But then again, I guess that’s what being a chef is all about. Bon appétit!
By Chad Armstrong
Chef’s Kiss is nominated for Outstanding Graphic Novel at the 34th GLAAD Media Awards and is available now from ONI Press.