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Book: “Chef’s Kiss” by Jarrett Melendez and Danica Brine (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Oni Press, March 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Watch things start to really heat up in the kitchen in this sweet, queer, new adult graphic novel!
Now that college is over, English graduate Ben Cook is on the job hunt looking for something…anything…related to his passion for reading and writing. But interview after interview, hiring committee after hiring committee, Ben soon learns getting the dream job won’t be as easy as he thought. Proofreading? Journalism? Copywriting? Not enough experience. It turns out he doesn’t even have enough experience to be a garbage collector! But when Ben stumbles upon a “Now Hiring—No Experience Necessary” sign outside a restaurant, he jumps at the chance to land his first job. Plus, he can keep looking for a writing job in the meantime. He’s actually not so bad in the kitchen, but he will have to pass a series of cooking tests to prove he’s got the culinary skills to stay on full-time. But it’s only temporary…right?
When Ben begins developing a crush on Liam, one of the other super dreamy chefs at the restaurant, and when he starts ditching his old college friends and his old writing job plans, his career path starts to become much less clear.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this graphic novel!
I’m someone who likes to bake and cook but doesn’t have a real talent for it. I mean, I can follow a recipe and I have a few dishes I’m a pro at, but when it comes to being able to do things on the go or creatively I did NOT inherit that skillset from my Dad (who is an excellent on the fly cook). So stories about people who are creative with food always fascinate me, and “Chef’s Kiss” by Jarrett Melendez caught my eye because of this. And also because it is in graphic novel form! I’ve read a couple graphics that center around food (specifically the first few volumes of “Oishinbo”), but that’s about it. Plus, everything I read about “Chef’s Kiss” sounded not only sweet, but also had the added benefit of the author being a food writer as well. It was an interesting combination to say the least, so I had to give it a try.
“Chef’s Kiss” is both a love letter to food as well as a story about finding oneself, all with the added sweetness of a cute, queer love story to fall head over heels for. Our main character Ben has just graduated from college with aspirations to be a writer, but when he can’t get past the interview phase of job hunting (due to a lack of experience; I remember those days. HOW CAN I GET EXPERIENCE IF NO ONE WILL HIRE ME WITHOUT EXPERIENCE?), he applies for a kitchen position at a local trendy restaurant as it is the only place that doesn’t seem to require experience for consideration. It’s pretty clear from the get go that this job is going to end up being more than just a desperation gig, but that’s okay because while it’s a familiar storyline, Melendez knows how to elevate the best parts of it and turn it into a cute and comfortable coming of age tale. Ben is a relatable and likable main character, and watching him start to suss out his life is a nice journey as he has self doubt, anxiety, and a burning passion for cooking and food awakened inside of him. The conflict is pretty standard: his friends worry that he’s changing in ways that aren’t positive, he hides this from his overbearing parents for fear they will be angry, and Chef Davis, head chef and owner, is INTENSE and INTIMIDATING. But even so, there is a comforting undercurrent that everything is going to be just fine in the end, no matter what happens. I liked Ben a lot, and while his friends were a little two dimensional I liked them too. I also liked the crush that Ben has on fellow chef Liam, and seeing the two of them have their moments is very cute.
And man oh man, the food. Melendez is clearly a food writer because he knows exactly how to make the food and the restaurant culture come to life on the page. There is very much an affection for the culinary arts, and also the hectic and stressful culture that can come with them. I imagine that in “Chef’s Kiss” this is a very romanticized and tame scenario, as I’ve heard MANY things about the chef’s life and hustle, but for the purposes of this story it’s all very romantic and cozy. I just believed everything (well most everything, more on that in a bit) that was presented, from the neurotic head chef to the friendships made with other cooks to the way that food can bring out creativity and passion and self expression.
I’m now going to dedicate this next chunk of this review to Watson the pig. Yes, this book has a pig character, and yes, I absolutely loved this pig character. Ben is told that he doesn’t have to impress Chef with his food creations during his probation, but he does have to impress the restaurant’s pig, and this part of the story is so farfetched but so damn cute that I absolutely loved it. Watson’s opinions on the various offerings range from the expected to the utterly cartoonish (imagine a pig sitting in a lotus pose achieving enlightenment. It’s that level), and while it is not in any way shape or form realistic when the rest of the story is, it is charming as hell and I couldn’t wait to see what Watson was going to do next.
And finally, the artwork is pretty cute. While the lion’s share of it is pretty standard design, the way that it emphasizes the food offerings and food prep itself made my mouth water. It really conveys the complexity and the uniqueness of different kinds of food, and I thought that having the visual really added to the reading experience.
“Chef’s Kiss” is a super cute and chill contemporary romance. Maybe don’t read it on an empty stomach. But be sure to read it if this kind of tale warms your heart.
Rating 8: A cute and fun coming of age story with a gregarious pig, “Chef’s Kiss” is a sweet romance that will make you hungry.
“Chef’s Kiss” is included on the Goodreads list “Graphic Novels Featuring LGBTQ+ Themes”.