Ben Cook is fresh out of college, excited to be living with three of his good friends, and ready to use his English degree in some writing-related field. But his optimism falters as job after job turns him down, all of them requiring previous professional experience. Soon, he’s desperate (and broke) enough to consider any job at all just to keep living with his friends and avoid moving back in with his controlling parents.

Enter Le Cochon Doré, a gourmet restaurant that needs a new cook. It’s a weird gig: the owner has hired Ben on probation, requiring him to prove himself with cooking trials over three weeks—and he tests Ben’s dishes by offering them to his pet pig! Luckily, Ben has always been good in the kitchen, and he’s up for a challenge. Besides, he only needs to work here until he can find a writing job, right? Except that Ben finds himself getting more and more invested in this job—and in cute, good-natured Liam, one of the other cooks. Is he letting a crush cloud his judgment, or is it possible that writing isn’t his one true path after all?

While the cover and title suggest this is a romance, it’s actually more about Ben starting to find his way in life. He does have a crush on Liam, but spends most of the book being much too shy to bring it up. They go on one date, which is ambiguous enough that Ben and his roommates have a debate afterward about whether it was even a date, before getting cozier at the very end. Meanwhile, lots of time is spent on Ben’s friendship with his roommates and his struggle to decide on a career path. The romance subplot really is a subplot, not the point of the story.

In addition the coming-of-age arc of Ben learning to defy his pushy parents and choose for himself, there is a slice-of-life feel to much of this book. We get a lot of Ben’s angst and conflict, and a couple of long play-by-play scenes depicting mundane activities or conversations. There is also, naturally, a lot of time spent on food and cooking. Co-creator Melendez is a food writer, and the dishes in this book sound delicious, and their preparations are portrayed in enough detail that you could almost use the comic as a recipe.

Most of the story is down-to-earth, with one distinct outlier: Watson the pig has unexplained, cartoonish abilities. For instance, after eating one particularly delicious dish, he shows his enjoyment by kicking back with a cigarette. His behavior startles Ben and the other characters, but certainly not as much as it would if a pig did these things in real life. Visually, Watson and other slightly surreal elements, like Ben’s daydreams, can be a little jarring next to the straightforward realism of the rest of the art. The characters’ expressions tend to be understated and don’t show a lot of variation, but the art is clear and easy to read, and the characters and settings all distinct from each other.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the book follows characters in their early twenties, there is some drinking, references to pot, and a little swearing. The reader sees Ben and Liam shirtless in nonsexual situations (e.g. changing clothes), and occasionally a daydream image of a scantily-clad Liam strikes a sultry pose in Ben’s head. There is a single kiss, and a few mildly suggestive comments.

If readers go into this book expecting lots of romance, they will likely be disappointed, but if they’re interested in a quirky story of a young man figuring out his life (and cooking a lot), then Chef’s Kiss will hit the spot.

Chef’s Kiss
By Jarrett Melendez
Art by  Danica Brine
Oni Press, 2022
ISBN: 9781620109045

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Gay
Character Representation: Gay

  • Nic

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Wake County Public Libraries

    Reviewer

    The child of two artists, Nic grew up loving art, reading, and those oh-so-special books that combine the two. Nic got her MLS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her thesis was on the best shelving scheme for graphic novels in public libraries; the proposal won an Elfreda Chatman Research Award. She spends her free time reading, drawing, blogging, and writing fiction. She is a Youth Services Librarian at the Wake County Public Libraries in Raleigh, NC.

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