Books, food, dogs, politics. These are the 4 topics that dominate in my house. (Oh how I wish in that order!) Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that on a humid, but cool afternoon at a friend’s BBQ, I found myself having a long, in-depth conversation with two near strangers about the topic of food. This culinary conversation somehow segued into books (and eventually politics). Dogs never came up. How that transition came to be was unusual.
BBQ Food and Etiquette Leads Me to a Book Discovery
I’d met the near-strangers once or twice before at similar shindigs of mutual friends. But, I didn’t remember their names and they didn’t remember mine. It didn’t matter. We fell easily into conversation and since one of the near-strangers was a butcher, we fell further into a conversation about food.
This food conversation can be a slippery slope for me, especially when I’m the vegetarian at the BBQ. Therefore, I was happy to see us roll leisurely and comfortably down the hill, no apparent slipping. Our discussion spanned the vegetarian/meat eater debate, the weird food pairings discussion and the how can people eat a burger cooked to death commiserating.
So how did this BBQ banter segue into my ultimate favorite topic of books? It wasn’t me. I swear. I know better. I could talk about books forever but am acutely aware this is not the type of talk most people like at a BBQ. Appropriate BBQ topics for suburbanites include: crazy weather, crazy kids, crazy dogs, work, movies and travel. Anything outside of those topics and you’re in an “unsafe zone” that could get you the dreaded “Oh I need to get another plate of food” or worse, you’re never invited back. Also, perfecting the take a sip of your drink and say “Mmmm, interesting,” response is critical.
However, during the hour or so we’d been talking, I’d developed a level of comfort with the near-strangers and didn’t object when they veered it into an “unsafe zone” topic courtesy of the mentioning of a graphic novel by famous chef Anthony Bourdain.
Seconds after learning of this, I called my husband over to discuss.
A Novel Twist of the Graphic Variety
The near strangers explained the premise of Bourdain’s latest book project – a bloody, crime graphic novel where chefs are gangsters and run the seedy underbelly of cities.
The description left me more confused than intrigued. My husband and I have been fans of Bourdain since long ago when we read Kitchen Confidential. We ate at his restaurant, Les Halles, back when we still lived in New York and were carnivores. Bourdain has written several other books. At this point, he’s more entertainer and food personality than chef. Still, a graphic novel? When I think of Bourdain, I think, quirky, intelligent, funny, wry, acerbic and arrogant. I associate him with travel, adventures and, yes, he’s an author of non-fiction books. I don’t think graphic novel writer.
So, I said “excuse me” to the near strangers and googled the book. Part of me just couldn’t believe it. Really, it sounds a bit like a joke right? Chefs ruling the crime world. Sure, they’d have access to plenty of animal heads to leave in people’s beds, but beyond that I don’t view Mario Batali and his orange crocs as particularly terrifying.
And yet, there it was, on my phone, a graphic novel called Get Jiro! by Anthony Bourdain.
Described as the following: “In a not-too-distant future L.A. where master chefs rule the town like crime lords and people literally kill for a seat at the best restaurants, a bloody culinary war is raging.”
It’s not even just one graphic novel. It has a prequel! Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi.
Described as the following: In a prequel to The New York Times best-selling comic from renowned chef Anthony Bourdain (CNN’s Parts Unknown), Jiro is a young man learning his craft. The son of one of Tokyo’s most powerful gangsters, he is torn between his father’s plans for him and his own desire to master the art of sushi. The family is making a bold move in the Tokyo underworld, and if Jiro isn’t going to get with the program, his half-brother Ichigo is more than happy to step in and do the dirty work.
It seems totally and completely just off-the-wall bizarre, which makes me want to read it.
May Need to Rethink My “Unsafe Zone”
After learning of these odd graphic novels, the conversation shifted deeper into book territory and twisted through our lives and interest via books. The near-strangers picked their jaws off the floor after they found out I am probably the only liberal in the world who loves Ayn Rand, which led to the discovery that we had an unusual 6-degrees of separation connection.
I was a little sad to leave the near-strangers at the end of the afternoon. It had been such an illuminating conversation, in more ways than one.
I learned so much, like graphic novels about crime lord chefs aren’t just a story that might have come from The Onion. Also, I definitely need to re-evaluate my “unsafe zone” approach to BBQs and parties in general. If I’d stuck to it this time, I would have missed out on learning such interesting information both about books and the near-strangers themselves. Hopefully, next time I meet them I can rename them as no-longer-strangers.