Chefs are everywhere. From Emeril’s Original Essence Spice Blend to Guy Fieri’s Big Baller 15-piece Cutlery Set, their eponymous products and projects are unavoidable.
It’s tempting to deem this a new phenomenon, more a product of our exceedingly corporate-sponsored times. But back in the 1980s, an Austrian upstart named Wolfgang Puck celebrated his über-successful Spago by launching a line of supermarket canned goods. In 2011, Aughts hipster hero David Chang partnered with Nineties hipster hero Dave Eggers and McSweeney’s to create Lucky Peach.
But Anthony Bourdain, that bard in a black tee shirt, is the first chef to go graphic.
Get Jiro! (Vertigo Press, July 2012), Bourdain’s best-selling comic book with DC Comics illustrator Langdon Foss, is a witty, well-timed takedown of culinary culture.
The scene is Los Angeles in the near future, when two gastronomic gangs rule a violent, food-obsessed city. It’s a place where sectarian warfare ignites with such fighting words as: “You’re in violation of the Pasadena Convention. This corner is zoned for vegan.”
The story begins with a crime of passion: our hero Jiro, a talented but under-the-radar sushi chef, impulsively beheads a diner who dares to request a wasabi-soaked California roll. Jiro’s violent display of culinary integrity – and impressive knife skills – makes him a focal point of the rival gangs’ ongoing war for social supremacy and the right to eat foie gras with impunity.
This is the next wave of culinary literature. Filled with inner-circle allusions to modern-day obsessions like pickling and free-range farming, Get Jiro! assumes a certain level of savvy among readers. Bourdain’s once-confidential kitchen culture has so infiltrated the zeitgeist that it’s now ready to be skewered.
The graphic novel’s most powerful punch, though, is how well it works without Bourdain. Granted, the author is wholly present throughout the story. From the concept and setting to the titular protagonist, named after Tokyo chef and Bourdain favorite Jiro Ono, the book is utterly, unmistakably an Anthony Bourdain Production.
But, unlike his thoughtful journalism or breakthrough memoir, Bourdain himself never appears as a character in these pages. The story stands on its own, without any branding or brandishing of the chef at its helm. And that is truly novel.
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