Friday November 2, 2012
Plenty to bite into in Anthony Bourdain's new graphic novel
WORLDS OF WONDER
By SHARMILLA GANESAN
Celebrity chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain branches out to a different medium with his debut graphic novel.
ANTHONY Bourdain needs no introduction as a chef and travel show host, and anyone with a passing interest in him will also recall that he wrote the bestselling books Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw.
Now, if you were a true fan, you may also know that Bourdain penned fiction books of the “culinary mystery” genre, such as Bone In The Throat and The Bobby Gold Stories. But even viewed within that diverse context, it is still rather unexpected that the acerbic gourmet’s latest project is the graphic novel Get Jiro!, which he co-wrote with Joel Rose, featuring art work by Langdon Foss (with Jose Villarrubia).
There is, however, plenty to bite into in Get Jiro!, from the spicy storyline to the luscious artwork (there, I got the food puns out of my system!). Set in Los Angeles, the United States in a not-too-distant future, Get Jiro! is a send-up of our current food-obsessed culture: the economy revolves around the food industry, people literally kill to get into the best restaurants, and two warring master chefs run the city with the help of kitchen hand gangs (much like the crime lords of today).
Jiro, a mysterious sushi chef with a sharp eye and an even sharper knife, just wants to run his humble restaurant at the edge of the city. His superior skills – whether slicing fish or someone’s head off – however, get him noticed by the two “chef warlords” Bob and Rose, who both want him on their side.
A bloody battle is set off, with each side sweet-talking and threatening Jiro into joining, while all he wants is to be left alone. And so Jiro puts his own plan into motion, one that may well change the power structure of the city forever.
Get Jiro! is unmistakably the work of a person intimately familiar with the culinary world; the storyline is liberally peppered (that pun was not intended!) with both overt and subtle food references. More than that, the story is classic Bourdain: clever, funny and very sharp.
Less a celebration of food than it is an acidic critique of gluttony, Bourdain weaves in some truly hilarious bits, such as two cops being more concerned with the finer points of sushi etiquette than with the murder of a restaurant patron. Or a gang of street thugs sparing the life of a man they’ve been beating up when they realise he’s managed to get a seat in a coveted restaurant.
It’s through Bob and Rose, however, that Bourdain makes his most pointed jibes about the celebrity chef culture. Bob is a proponent of haute cuisine, publicly pushing fine foods while actually focused on profit margins.
Rose, on the other hand, is the embodiment of the hipster chef, capitalising on veganism, organic food, local produce and whatever other movement becomes trendy. The seeming contrast and underlying hypocritical similarities between the two make for some of the best dark humour in the book.
That said, it is actually Foss’ brilliant artwork that truly brings these concepts to life. The rich visuals of the food-centric city give much-needed background, with the abundance of restaurants hawking everything from burgers to char kway teow, and long lines of people jostling to get into them.
The panels are stuffed with little details that add to the story. I loved, for instance, how the chef gangs’ weapons are all kitchen utensils – you’d never realise the murderous potential of an egg beater! Clever touches, like using cool, metallic colour tones for the panels involving Bob, and warm, earthy hues for those with Rose, are aplenty.
The illustrations of the varieties of fish and sushi are also gorgeous, and any foodie will appreciate the little nods to quality cuisine, like the not-too-tightly packed grains of rice on the nigiri sushi.
With such visual pleasures, it is easy to forgive the weaker parts of Get Jiro!, one of which is characterisation. As a lead character, Jiro isn’t very memorable. He is obviously meant to be the strong-and-silent, Yojimbo-type, but not enough is revealed about him to make him interesting.
The plot too, is fairly shallow, and about halfway through, you can quite easily predict what is coming. I also wish that, after all the drama that led to it, the ending was more exciting; instead, the story just sort of halts (though I can envision this leading to a sequel quite nicely).
So while Get Jiro! may lack the meat to make it wholly satisfying, it is certainly worth treating yourself to (yes, I finally succumbed to the lure of the food pun!).
Get Jiro! is now available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC.