Sunday, June 2, 2013

Book Review: Get Jiro!

So, Anthony Bourdain, not content with writing memoirs, cooking, doing tv shows, has also acted as an author on Get Jiro!, a graphic novel. Okay, technically it is a co-writing credit with Joel Rose. He wrote a fun little book called New York Sawed in Half at the same time that Bourdain had written another book for the same imprint called Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical.

Anyways, back to Jiro. It is a graphic novel set in a future where food and food stars has replaced the natural order of crime and politics. Two large factions rule the food scene in Los Angeles. There is a mother earth type, Rose, representing an Alice Waters type aesthetic and of course, a traditional French style kitchen chef, Jimmy who looks for the best ingredients regardless.

The two philosophies are strung out through the book showing the downfall of being dogmatic to either of them. These failings will be obvious to those who have been following the food trends over the years.

The localvore movement can be strident and militant while some of its proponents will stretch the meaning of local in order to get ingredients to fit the mold making this style of cuisine, though local, unavailable to locals without the ability to pay and pay.

The traditional French style requires certain ingredients to make unchanging classics. It has lead to the destruction of species and a regimenting of the correct style to do a dish. However, public tastes have changed and even though giving an air of superiority for fine dining, it twists the definition to keep diners.

The third way is Jiro, a sushi master who has to innovate but still tries to deliver the best food he can with the ingredients he has. In the first scenes, pages go by with the whole sushi making. These panels of food making are a delight. There are several scenes of this type of food porn and they are fun. It is good to see something other than mayhem be delivered in exquisite colour and stop time precision. One motion captured for a page that suggests what will come next. The customers break a taboo in the ritual of eating and Jiro deals with them harshly.

This third way philosophy bothered me in this regard; eaters should not be pigs at the trough and are partially to blame for the degradation of the cuisine. Fine. At what point do they become educated? How does this happen? I mean, I ask my server how I am supposed to eat something but is that the way it is supposed to be. But, hey, this is a graphic novel so sometimes there are gaps.

The rest of the novel unfolds as a result of the two large forces trying to deal with the "authenticity" of the third way. This seems to be a definite collaboration as the voice found in the Bobby Gold novels seems to be hanging in the air. There is violence, food, and some funny moments. The food world does get skewered and we do get a glimpse into what Bourdain's and Rose's definition of authentic food would include in a scene that I spent a little time going over and over.

It's a fun read and suffers from too little exposition. The characters are cartoony but the philosophy of food is argued clear and well. For anyone trying to get food culture, this is a really accessible way compared to reading Nestle, Pollan and so many others. This could be a gateway book into a lifetime of trying to understand food politics.

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