En Cuisine avec Alain Passard

En Cuisine avec Alain Passard

France has a vivid culture of comic books and graphic novels, which are grouped under the general term bande dessinée (literally, drawn strip), often shortened to BD and pronounced bédé. It is a remarkably rich and diverse genre, with titles to appeal to all ages and interests, from kids’ comics to historical sagas, from humorous social commentary to science fiction.

My father has an extensive collection of them, one that filled an entire room in the apartment where I grew up: from floor to ceiling, shelves groaning with several thousand albums he had amassed since his teens, reflecting a passion he further fueled by weekly expeditions to the specialized bookstores of the Latin Quarter.

My sister and I were shaped by this. From the moment we could read we started reading bandes dessinées, and while other children watched television (we owned no tv set, our parents were not interested), we spent our childhood and teenage days ravenously working our way through these storytelling gems, constantly discovering new age-appropriate (and sometimes age-inappropriate, but no less educational) series to delve into.

It was still a time when most people viewed the genre in a mildly disparaging way, believing it boiled down to silly little drawings to keep the kids entertained, but we knew better.

Some series I read and re-read dozens of times, and for a very long time, they were the primary window through which I saw the world, the stories they told and the characters that inhabited them leaving a deeper imprint on me than any book I ever read or movie I ever watched.

And then I grew up, I moved out, and because I didn’t have the means, the stamina, or the space to start a collection of my own, I essentially stopped reading newly released bandes dessinées some ten years ago. (Incidentally, this was around the time the genre took a new turn, becoming even more profuse and getting more attention from the general media.)

All this to explain why I was so drawn to Christophe Blain’s En Cuisine avec Alain Passard, published last spring.

Christophe Blain is a French writer and illustrator of bandes dessinées who had the opportunity to spend time in the kitchen with Alain Passard, chef and owner of the three-star restaurant L’Arpège in Paris, and the book is the illustrated tale of his experience.

I was prepared to enjoy it a lot, as the rare conjunction of two of my passions. I was not prepared to be quite so smitten with it as I was.

En Cuisine avec Alain Passard
Reproduced with permission. Click to enlarge.

With his minimalistic and dynamic drawing style, Blain is incredibly successful in conveying the energy and emotion of each passage, as he watches Passard cook, chats with members of his crew, or visits the chef’s famous vegetable gardens (one of which I got to visit).

There are many kitchen scenes in which Passard is preparing dishes and discussing his creative process (see image above), and these dialogues and gestures feel so spontaneous and alive, capturing moments so fleeting and so true, that one would not dream of trading these pages for a filmed segment.

If you read a little French, I encourage you to seek this one out. It can be ordered internationally through the French Amazon site, or if you know someone who’s traveling to France soon, perhaps you can persuade them to bring you back a copy.

And to everyone else, do you know other illustrated books and graphic novels that deal with food and cooking? How do you feel about the particular way they portray their subject matter?

  • kim

    In Belgium we grow up with BDs (or stripverhalen) too. Literally everybody I know read them as a kid (fun to discuss at work to find out everybody’s favourites) but most stop when they become adultes. I used to live with a guy who still collected them so got to know a lot of “grownup” BDs too, it really is a great medium. This kitchen one looks like fun. (Incidentally, have you read “Yakitate Japan”? a manga about bread baking)

    • Ah yes, a large portion of the BDs I read were by Belgian authors!

      I haven’t read the Yakitate! Japan manga, but I watched the anime and loved it. I actually wrote about it last year.

  • In fact, food and cooking is an very important theme in Japanese comic (mango) as it is a country that has a long history respecting and promoting craftsmanship. I used to read a lot of them when I was in Taiwan and we are very lucky that we have so many of them translated. One of my favorites is ‘Shota no sushi’ (literally means ‘Shota’s sushi’) telling a story of a young man starting his sushi master career at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo. It’s incredible how many details and much depth a manga can tell. Amazing!

    • Sounds great, I’ll have to look for that one!

  • Sigrid

    I so second your opinion on this BD. We’ve been giving it to everybody who understands a little bit of French and likes good food.

    It’s so heart-warming, charming, funny, informative, funny and, most of all, charming and funny. You really learn a lot about Alain Passard and his way of thinking. The day after the BD arrived I immediately ordered a toque-oeuf …

    Can’t stop raving about this. I wish they’d translate it into English and German then I wouldn’t have to worry about presents for years to come.

  • I remember reading so many BD as a kid. They were a regular part of all the magazines I liked to read.

    I’m loving the novelty of this BD cookbook.

  • Kate

    I was introduced to BDs when I lived in France as a teenager – Mostly Tin Tin and Asterix & Obelisk… The humour was always such that there was something for kids and adults alike… I’ve started adding to my collection in hopes that my five year old develops an appreciation for them!

  • I think this will count : Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book.

    I was offered it in a second hand book shop when I was trying to find one of his spy books! What a find!

  • I have only skimmed through it, but there’s a relatively new (or at least new in English) manga in bookstores in the States called Kitchen Princess, about an orphaned girl who goes to culinary school in Japan to try and become and great chef and to find a boy who saved her life and win him over with a delicious dessert (of course there is sappy romance involved, this is a shojo manga after all!) It looked pretty cute, I’ve been meaning to give it a more thorough read, your post might just inspire me to do that!

    • Thanks for the recommendation, I’ll look it up!

    • Sounds lovely!

  • If you live in Canada the book is available for pre-order on amazon.ca

    • Good to know, thanks for the tip.

  • I learned about à boire et à manger from you at your talk at the BnF a while back. Apparently he’s got a culinary-related BD coming out this year. Very excited–I love his blog (and yours)!

  • Chloe

    I really like French Milk. It’s in english, but it is very charming. It is about an art school graduate who spends a year in Paris, and her experience there.
    I highly recommend it :)

    • I’ll look it up, thanks for the recommendation!

  • Rachel

    This looks wonderful – next time someone I know goes to Paris I’ll have to ask them to pick up a copy for me!

    Re: food-related BDs, I was a voracious reader of Asterix (in translation because I hadn’t learned French yet) while in middle school, and my favorite was Le tour de Gaule d’Asterix (Asterix and the Banquet in English), which turned out to be my primer in French regional cuisine! I recently re-read it in French and of course realized how much got lost in translation (or went over my head). It’s still one of my favorites.

    • Ah yes, Astérix is definitely a cornerstone of my education. The fabulous thing about it is that for years and years after reading these, I would suddenly have aha moments about some of the puns in there, finally understanding them when I came across what they referenced — such as secret agent Acidchloridrix, whose code name is HCl. :)

  • Kristin

    Hi! Thanks for the tip, Clotilide! I recently discovered the manga Oishinbo by Tetsu Kariya (story by Tetsu Kariya ; art by Akira Hanasaki). Cooking techniques as well as an ecological view on food resources are thoroughly presented in this manga, with beautiful drawings of food. A treat for a foodie!

    This manga is about a young journalist who becomes involved in a competition with his father, a renowned chef, as they strive to find the “true” way to cook different Japanese dishes. Each volume has a different theme, like Fish, Sushi & Sashimi; Ramen & Gyoza.. Personally, I love the volume The Joy of Rice.

    • That sounds right up my alley, thanks!

  • rita

    Oh, I wish I could read French!! It has so much charm that the manga I’m accustomed to doesn’t seem to have…
    Maybe this could be a beginning for my adventure into learning French?!

  • It’s a rare moment when two passions such as this collide – I’m so happy for you! Reading this made me laugh while remembering stumbling upon an age-inappropriate comic when I was a kid .. can’t for the life of me remember the name of it though ..

  • Audrey Harris

    This book sounds fun. Wish I read French, but I’m starting a French class this fall, so maybe someday. One of my favorite illustrated cookbooks is Fanny at Chez Panisse, by Alice Waters, and with lovely illustrations by Ann Arnold. I suppose it’s a children’s book, but I still love reading it, with its simple recipe and evocative drawings.
    I also love the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, with its wonderful margin drawings, that always make me want to eat and cook delicious things. Long live the illustrated cookbook!

    • Both sound great, thank you Audrey!

  • Jack

    There is a japanese manga comic called Oishinbo that is a fictional story about a rivalry between a food journalist and his food writer father, quite silly stories with a lot of educational information about japanese food. It has 104 volumes in total, but Viz has published a best of collection of 7 volumes in english based on different type of foods.

    • This one sounds so good, I have to find it!

  • Tres belle histoire! beautifully told story. bravo.

  • Thanks for bringing this to my attention! I’m a huge fan of your blog and of bande dessinée — and have been reading Blain’s Isaac le pirate series for years. You might enjoy Etienne Davodeau’s Rural! Chronique d’une collision politique (with a preface by José Bové) because it deals with the politics of organic farming, terroir, etc., in an increasingly globalized food market. It’s not strictly about cooking but I enjoyed it immensely.

    • Love the recommendations, thank you Mike!

  • Very interesting. As a kid I too did not have TV and I read comics me all the time.I would store boxes of them up and then give them to kids in hospitals or orphanages.

  • I plan to get this book – but where can I find the bande dessinée? I am in the States but can get a friend to mail them to me – my daughter (soon to be 9) is fluent in French and loves comics and cooking!!! I must get this for her. Are they still in print and if not who can I get them from? Merci!

    • I’m not sure I understand your question: the book and the bande dessinée are one of the same. Your friend can get it in any bookstore in France, or order it online.

  • Clotilde,
    We visit BD shops every time we are in Paris because my husband is an avid reader. Stores in the area of boulevards Saint-Michel and Saint-Germain are known to us. Can you recommend any other locations, or a web directory of BD shops in Paris?
    Lisa/Muffin Tin

  • It has already been mentioned, but you may not have had a chance to take a closer look. Len Deighton’s 50 BD-style “cookstrips” were designed to teach cooking techniques, and they are timeless and helpful. The book was originally known as “Ou est le garlic?” and it appeared in 1977. Take a look.

    Deighton learned cooking from his mother, and art from six years as an art student. The results are quite extraordinary.

    Now they call the book “Len Deighton’s French Cooking for Men,” but that is just a marketing gimmick. The book is full of wisdom for all cooks and the cookstrips are both delightful and informative.

    • Looks and sounds wonderful, I’d love to find a copy of the original edition.

  • Karen

    Rhubarb is delicious cooked with sugar and fresh strawberries; a classic filling for pie. It’s also great stewed with sugar, lemon zest and grated fresh ginger root. Both versions are a treat by themselves or as a topping for vanilla ice cream.

  • I grew up on reading French BDs! That is how I learned French, after all. But I haven’t heard of this one, so I’ll have to look into it! I visited Paris 2 summers ago, and I was in the area of L’arpege, but there’s so much to eat and do in Paris!!

  • Torsten Adair

    Available in English from Chronicle Books!

    • Fantastic news, thanks for the tip!

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