You may expect—given her resume, which includes recipe development for John Sundstrom’s Lark: Cooking Against the Grain and serving as chef de cuisine at Café Juanita—Lauren Thompson to write as her first cookbook a locavore manifesto overflowing with gorgeous natural photos and pitch-perfect preparations of coveted seasonal ingredients.
Instead she wrote a comic book—which makes sense once you learn that Thompson has also taught culinary school. Cooking Comics! Simple Skills, Fantastic Food, which arrives December 6, is aimed squarely at the rote beginner, that person eager to learn scratch cooking but intimidated by the whole affair, with its constant French terminology (what, you don’t lavish your pan-roasted halibut with a buttery arroser?) and necessary vagueness (cook 5-10 minutes, or until done).
For that trembling novice, the book is a great introduction to the kitchen, focusing more on techniques and common questions—what does it mean to sweat an onion?— than recipes. Cooking Comics, in fact, contains only 19 recipes, and each is included as a demonstration of technique. Want to learn to sauté? Thompson runs down the basics—pan heat, oil heat, necessary tools—then gives two basic recipes as example: “Chicken with Summer Vegetables” and “Skirt Steak Yakisoba Stir Fry.”
The book's entire aesthetic should coax the confused and fearful toward comfort in the kitchen. The illustrations, by Tsukuru Anderson, are bright and sketchy—think a notch above Family Circus–level of detail. Thompson’s voice is warm and engaged with lots of exclamation point–studded encouragement jotted around the pages: “More Please!” And she includes pages of basics like how to stock your pantry and how to dice an onion, along with the sort of tips beginning cooks need: “TASTE YOUR FOOD!” she implores in her “Seasoning and Tasting” section.
This book, to be clear, is solely for the beginner’s level. Recipes, such as “Potato Leek Soup with Brown Butter” (note that she avoids calling it vichyssoise) and “Sausages with Grilled Vegetables and Peaches” are direct and unimpeachable, but anyone hoping to stretch their sensibilities won’t find that here.
That's not bad, per se. It just truncates the book’s audience to the Cooking 101 crowd. So if looking for a gift opportunity or a kitchen introduction for yourself, focus on that simple in the title. Heed it and you should be quite pleased.