Jarret Melendez and Danica Brine talk about the chef’s kiss in their new graphic novel
Last week, Oni Press published the graphic novel Chef’s kiss, a charming coming-of-age story that not only offers heartwarming charm and romance, but also some truly delicious dishes that aren’t just a feast for the eyes thanks to the inclusion of original recipes written just for the child. ‘story. Written by Jarret Melendez with illustrations by Danica Brine, colors by Hank Jones and letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, Chef’s kiss follows Ben Cook, a recent college graduate who, after struggling to find a job in his field of study, ends up applying for a job in a restaurant. It turns out he’s good at cooking, but soon it’s more than just delicious food being prepared. Romance also simmers between Ben and one of the chefs, Liam.
A love story, the struggles of being a new adult in the world and finding your own way, friendship, and even a taste tester pig who steals every sign he’s in, Chef’s kiss is a manga-inspired self-discovery delight that is a joy to read and experience. ComicBook.com recently sat down with Melendez and Brine to discuss Chef’s Kiss, explaining where the idea for the story came from, the importance of its broad appeal, that pork taste, and yes, the authentic recipes. created for the book. Read on for our conversation with Melendez and Brine to find out more!
Chef’s kiss is on sale now.
ComicBook.com: Where did the idea for Chef’s kiss comes from?
Jarret Melendez: Danica and I had been friends for a few years already. And then one summer we were just talking about what we were both doing and what we wanted to do and eventually, you know, her and I have a ton in common in terms of personality, but also just our tastes and things and the stuff we read and watch. And there wasn’t a lot of that kind of content back then – we started four years ago and since then we’ve seen other queer love books come out and other queer books focused on food too… But it was just a conversation between the two of us, like ‘let’s do something cute about boys falling in love and they both like food.’
One of the things that I loved about this book is that even though you know it’s a queer romance, it doesn’t feel like a queer romance. It’s just a story and it’s just people living people doing things and it’s natural and organic. How important was it for you to create a story that was highly relevant to a very specific group of people, but also widely accessible?
We knew we wanted it to be a queer book because we like boys falling in love with boys, but we didn’t want that to be all. And we didn’t want it to be rooted in queer trauma or queer persecution or anything like that. It’s really something that still happens and still happens today, but we have a lot of stories about it. And they’re very sad, and they’re very important, but it just had to be like all the queer manga we love, just like loving and having fun.
Danica Brine: For me, overall, I just sort of made do with it. And the script was already, like, everything was already laid out. And when it came to drawing him, I like to remember that the main characters go through that aspect of the genre, you know, he’s already come out to his parents and his parents already know that, his friends already know that. already know, he already has that support around him. So it was all about the fight. It was about the struggles of a young person. The struggle of a young man looking for a job and going through this and it kind of made it look like he just happens to be gay and that’s great. We didn’t want to show him struggling with all that. And I think that’s what made it more authentic.
I have to ask, whose idea is the taste tester pig and why? He’s my favorite character.
Melendez: I love Watson. So my ex and I were obsessed with pigs, and we started naming them while we were together and one of them is named Watson. So we named the pig in the book after Watson and I think that comes from things like Food Wars and these anime and manga that talk about food but have some really weird tangents that happen.
Salt water: There must be the cute animal aspect. This is the formula. It’s like ‘how can we put this guy in there?’ You know, like, we have to put this cute like, you know, all the Magical Girl enemies will have the cute little bunnies and stuff. It’s a formula and I don’t know what it is, but it works.
Reading the book made me hungry, but I kept thinking the whole time I was reading it, “I hope these recipes are real, because I’m going to need to make some of these things.” And then you get to the end and there they are. Why include recipes?
Melendez: Danica and I love food and while we were developing this, Danica was working on a food comic project and so I knew… she draws everything, but her food stuff is so pretty. It really takes on that Ghibli aspect. When someone makes bacon and eggs in a Ghibli movie, you’re like, “I want those eggs.
Salt water: It’s easy for me, drawing food and stuff. It’s such a break from drawing faces. For me, it’s like trying to align the eyes? It’s a fight for all artists, but drawing a pear pie? I can imagine how it tastes and I love it.
Melendez: Before this book, I had worked in kitchens, I was a chef. And currently, I’m an editor for Epicurious, so I’ve been a food professional for many years, on and off, throughout my life, and so I’ve developed all the recipes. These are my original recipes for the book and Danica brought them to life in an exciting way, more beautifully than I could have.
Is there any hope that we can get more from the Chef’s kiss world?
Melendez: Our dream was to do four books in total. This takes place in autumn; all recipes are fall season. You can see it in the outfits Danica puts together and the coloring Han uses, like the leaves turning brown and starting to get cold and all that. We want to do all four seasons and make it a year in the life of Ben and his friends and Liam and his friends.