Geek-themed cookbooks and comic cookbooks keep popping up more and more as comics continue to grow a little less niche and little more mainstream. Last holiday season, I found out about a comic cookbook called The Art of Cooking with Michelle, Chloe, and Mia: A Comics Cookbook that includes recipes illustrated in a traditional comic panel style and centers on three friends, Michelle, Mia, and Chloe (and sous-chef, Oreo the Kitty), all of who have their own cooking style.
The creator, Liz Brizzi a Franco-Italian woman with a love of comics and food, faced several rejections from publishers because a comics cookbook was just a little difficult for them to wrap their brains around — was it a comic or a cookbook? Liz decided to turn to Kickstarter to fund her book instead. After a very successful campaign, Liz was able to publish her book which is now available on Amazon.
Recently, I sat down with Liz to talk about her comics cookbook and getting her book off the ground, and I even got the chance to try one of her recipes from the book. Liz was also generous enough to offer a free copy of her book for a giveaway contest. Read on to learn how to sign up!
Let’s start with the basics, what is your background, and how did you get into illustration and cooking?
I was born in Paris and came to Los Angeles with my family in 1996 when I was 16 years old. My dad works in animation and was hired by the Disney studios at the time, which is what brought us here. So I grew up surrounded by the world of animation and graphic novels, and my dad was definitely a big influence. I’ve always been a foodie in the sense that I love to eat good food. I should mention my mom is Italian and never missed an opportunity to home cook a family meal. Family meals were important in our house. Every night without fail, it is where we’d all gather after work/school, and spend quality time together as a family. I think that time together is really important, and I fear it may be getting lost in today’s fast paced, technology obsessed society. I hope my book will help get kids and their parents in the kitchen together, cooking and eating, and making it a special time to share as a family.
I read that publishers loved your idea, but were hesitant to pick your proposal up because of blending two genres. I find that really interesting. Can you elaborate on that?
Yes that’s true. I originally pitched the idea to publishers who responded well to the newness of it and the art, but most of them said they were worried about “what part of their catalog it would fit in.” It’s true that it’s hard to define what age group it targets, and is it a comic book, or a cookbook? The truth is… I think it targets lots of different age groups. Young teens, parents, comic book fans of all ages who like to cook… Why should I pick? So I started a kickstarter campaign which was a success! I had backers of all ages and ethnicities. Lots of parents who wanted to buy it as a gift for their kids. But also people who just liked the comic book style idea.
You are French/Italian, but grew up in LA, right? How has that influenced your approach to food? To comics?
Comics and graphic novels in general are a big deal in Europe. They’re very well respected as an art form and people of all ages buy and read them. I grew up reading my parents collections of graphic novels that were always a part of their home library. Then I was introduced to comics by a kid in school I had a crush on. Haha! I loved the Uncanny X-men and Spider-Man so much. So I’d say both the European style and American style comics were a big part of my childhood and teenage years. And as far as cooking goes… well as you know, both the French and the Italian take their food very seriously. And I definitely inherited that. But I have to a admit, I was the worst cook for a really long time. When I lived with my parents, I had no reason to do it because my mom was so good at it. And then when I lived on my own, I’d go out all the time, because let’s face it, cooking for one is not really worth it. But then when I got married, I started recreating my family’s staple recipes, and adding my own twist on them. Now I just love that time in the kitchen and making meals for my own family.
Like you, I also identify as a foodie. What would you say is your overall approach to food? Your foodie philosophy, so to speak.
I think, aside from just really enjoying eating a good home cooked meal, I love the social aspect of it. I love getting together with friends in restaurants and enjoy a slow three hour dinner (that’s my french side); but I also love cooking at home and gathering around the kitchen table with my family and catching up on everyone’s day (that’s my Italian side). I’m about to have my first child and I can tell you right now… family dinners are going to be a big deal in this house, just like they were in mine.
And again like you, I am a cat person as are many of our writers and readers. Tell us about Oreo! What was the inspiration for this bowl-cleaning kitty?
You know what? I’m actually not really a cat person. I love dogs and have one of my own. I’m not sure why I decided my characters would have a kitty. I just thought it was more fitting… And Oreo is the link between all three of them. He doesn’t “belong” to any of them in particular. He travels around from kitchen to kitchen, hangs out and helps whenever he can.
For your future plans, you are interested in doing more books about different kinds of ethnic cooking. I think that sounds really neat! What else do you have in mind? Will it involve the same characters or new ones? How do you plan to research/prepare/write for these projects?
If this first book works out, I’d love to make a series of them. They would not involve the same characters. Ideally, I’d create ethnical characters and star them in books about Italian food, Indian food, Greek food, etc… It would be so much fun. Especially researching the dishes, learning how to make them, and especially tasting them!
Can you briefly describe the range of recipes readers will find in your book? What kind of foods and what level of cooking can readers expect to find?
I tried to keep the recipes varied, with meat dishes, vegetarian ones, simple lunches, fancier dinners, desserts, and healthy variations of staple favorites. They’re all from my own roster of dishes I like to cook in my house. Some of them came from my family, some I randomly found a long time ago and I have put my own twist on them. They are organized between our three main characters. Michelle makes fancier dinner type dishes that are great for when you have people over or want to do nice family meal. Mia makes lighter dishes, perfect for lunch or a nice summer day. And finally Chloe is the baker/dessert chef. I tried to keep all the recipes pretty simple so that they are accessible to young kids too; though some of them would probably require parent supervision, especially Michelle’s recipes. It was also important to me that all dishes were made from ingredients that are easily accessible at your local grocery store. They’re really everyday recipes for omnivores I’d say!
Recipe Test: Cauliflower Gratin
Liz sent me several excerpts from her book. One in particular caught me eye: Mashed Cauliflower Gratin (see below).
I participate in a local community supported agriculture (CSA), and it’s the time of year for cauliflower. Seeing a lot of the recipes about for cauliflower rice and similar creative and unique ways to use cauliflower, I decided to give this recipe a test run. The ingredient list is simple: cauliflower, greek yogurt, salt and pepper, fresh parsley, nutmeg, and Swiss cheese, and the directions simple and straightforward. And guess what — it was awesome! Like the recipe shows, I was eating it right out of the blender. While I have always loved broccoli, I have been less keen on cauliflower because I felt it lacked the green punch of broccoli. But the simple ingredients in this recipe amplify the cauliflower flavor — I get why substituting cauliflower for a lot of starchy sides is trending (and not due to the sacrilege that is carbs = evil), but cauliflower has a lot more flavor than your usual potatoes or rice. Additionally, while the recipe calls for Swiss cheese, you could try another cheese or go sans cheese — the recipe is designed to be flexible and the text encourages experimentation.
Next on my to-try list is the crepe recipe. I have yet to perfect the crepe, and the tone of the recipes makes a fairly simple food that is often deemed “fancy” approachable:
The Art of Cooking with Michelle, Chloe, and Mia is charming in its art and approachable in its recipes. And as someone who often favors French and Italian influences in their cooking with less emphasis on meat, this book is a great edition to my kitchen.
Liz has generously offered a free copy of The Art of Cooking with Michelle, Chloe, and Mia: A Comics Cookbook for giveaway. Start the new year with something tasty! Tweet out this contest, with a link to this article and the hashtag #wwacfoodies by Thursday, January 28th, 2016 at 12:00pm Central Time Zone (CT). I will then drop each person who tags me, links the article, and uses the hashtag in a random name picker, and whoever the tool generates will win the free copy. I will then reach out the winner, privately, for their mailing address.