by Dan Kois
Seems like a lot of people are up in arms / delighted / annoyed / enraged by this week’s Top Chef finale, in which hateable [WINNER’S NAME REDACTED, DVR WHINERS*] defeated two dudes to win whatever it is you win when you win Top Chef. (Whoa! $125,000?) If you’re looking for some more cheftastic action, here are a couple of cooking comics that will detonate in your mouth. One’s stately and respectful, like a perfectly-cooked sea bream; the other is ridiculous and over-the-top, like a vegetable-stuffed iootle antler from planet Doofu Prime.
The charming manga Oishinbo, by Testsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki, has been a favorite in Japan forever, selling over 100 million copes since its debut in 1983. This year, Viz started publishing English translations, compiling greatest hits from the series’ 102 Japanese-language volumes into seven “a la carte” English collections, each covering a different cuisine: one on fish, one on ramen and gyoza, one on sake, etc. Each follows cynical newspaper gourmand Yamaoka Shiro as he attempts to create the “Ultimate Menu,” a model meal representing the Platonic ideal of Japanese cuisine. Along the way, Shiro gets in constant debates with his hated father, Kaibara Yuzan, head of the Gourmet Club, who thinks his son is a shiftless know-nothing.
Really, it’s all just an excuse for pages-long disquisitions on the qualities and delights of sea bream, nori, and-best of all-rice, in my favorite volume so far, The Joy of Rice. Whether helping a friend’s wife cook the perfect rice to impress her mother-in-law (“In Tabata-san’s case, the rice was too dry and it was milled too much!”) or lecturing a government minister on why rice subsidies are a good idea, Shiro is happy to flaunt his expertise, making for delightfully fussy reading for those of us who find the ritual and rigmarole of Japanese cooking as fun as the flavor.
Recommended for people who like: vegetables, A River Runs Through It; sushi; soap operas; Per Se as a concept even though you can’t actually afford to eat there; “The Minimalist” with Mark Bittman
James Stokoe’s sci-fi trucker cooking comic Wonton Soup, on the other hand, is about as unfussy as it gets. It follows Johnny Boyo, culinary-school drop-out, around the universe as he attempts to, as he says, “hit new flavors that have never been tasted.” (He says this in Volume 1, shortly after wrapping meng-beast steak in electrical wire and frying it in a C-10 Electro-Sponger, typically used by space marines to torture captives.)
The baroque recipes of Wonton Soup (“Chop the nettle-lettuce until it coats the rim of your nostrils”) may be insane, but they express a coherent, specific theory of cuisine: Anything goes in pursuit of pure flavor. (That’s best exhibited in Volume 2, when Johnny Boyo squeezes out a space nymph’s soul, pictured, and bakes it into a cake.) That second volume, published by Oni Press a few months ago, is a little bit of a letdown after the surreal heights of the first, but it’s still packed with great detail, including a subplot involving the Sex Bear, from whose “supple multi-teets springs glorious sex-milk… the most powerful aphrodisiac in the known universe.”
Recommended for people who like: meat; Repo Man; chainsaw-spatulas; the idea of eating a placenta, maybe; Momofuku Ko as a concept even though you’ve never managed to get a table there; “Gluttony” with Mary HK Choi