“Chefs are primal creatures. Always have been. When you see puffed up fools bellowing at their kitchen staff on the cooking shows, this is what I mean, so you tell me: isn’t a bit of intramural kicking far more sane than screaming obscenities at some hapless underling? You recall that one chef on TV who does that? About ready to pop an artery? And when he does and there’s a funeral, who’s going to show up? No one. Because he’s an asshole who shouts at his employees.” – Gavin Cruikshank
We live in a world where reality TV is a popular form of escape for many people, with it extending to the cooking industry as well. Celebrity chef programs are enjoyed by billions because of the competitiveness and the emotional trauma that it causes among the people involved. Some shows are just for fun, while others are designed to push chefs to the edge for the entertainment of the audience. Not only does that say a lot about society as a whole, but it forms a large part of STARVE: Volume 1. Created by Brian Woods, Danijel Zezelj and Dave Stewart, STARVE is about the world’s most famous chef, Gavin Cruikshank, who created a reality cooking show that turned into a morally corrupt arena for the wealthy to dine on illegal cuisine and bastardise the industry. The graphic novel contains a multitude of relatable themes that will appeal to chefs and cooking enthusiasts.
When the story begins, Cruikshank is introduced as a raging drug addict and alcoholic living a life of self-exile in Asia. Having walked away from his show, Cruikshank is filled with self-loathing over his family situation. Cruikshank is locked in a vicious war with his ex-wife Greer, who controls STARVE and has custody of their teenage daughter Angie. The relationship is made more complicated by the fact that Cruikshank is gay. The family dynamic forms the heart of the story, with Cruikshank agreeing to come back to STARVE and compete on the show he created to get his royalties and reconnect with his daughter.
“I can tell you pretty much exactly what the others are doing. There’s probably a grilled tuna with miso shallot reduction. Someone else will mask their too-old fish by making a goddamn burger out of it and pretending this is a serious move. Somewhere else in here is a bluefin fresh enough for a carpaccio, but they’ll fumble, and soak it in some lemony-sugary sauce. This chef who only managed to score a tiny bit of tuna will sauce it with chiocciole and onions and red wine vinegar. A good dish usually, but not good enough.”
“The arrogance of STARVE is working against us. Roman’s whipped up his audience – and his judges – into this expectation of greatness, of decadence, of opulence, of exclusivity. The way to win is not to try and meet those expectations. The move right now is to shame the hell out of them for even entertaining thoughts like that.” – Gavin Cruikshank
In Cruikshank’s absence, STARVE has become a gauntlet style entertainment show for the rich to oppress the poor. The world’s resources are running dry and many species have become extinct. Humanity’s capacity to destroy the environment is one of the most important themes of the graphic novel. This is shown through many of the contests on STARVE, which include ‘The Common Meat,’ a round that involves preparing a dog carcass because it’s become a staple meal for the poor. Another round involves preparing bluefin tuna, food that can only be sourced on the black market. Cruikshank makes a point of shaming the judges by demanding how they feel being paid to eat the last bluefin in existence for a cheap TV thrill.
It’s a scene that reveals the good-heartedness of Cruikshank beneath all his darkness and self-hatred. Woods has created an intriguing protagonist who oozes arrogance and believes himself to be above the blood-thirsty audience of STARVE. The character has a rockstar swagger that made me think of a cross between David Bowie and Gordon Ramsey, only I’m pretty sure Cruikshank would punch Ramsey in the mouth if they were ever in a kitchen together. Cruikshank is also a broken man, desperately trying to get his daughter back after abandoning her for years. His status as a gay man is also interesting because of how he’s perceived from a celebrity point of view. It took a lot of bravery for him to come out, though he’s still dealing with the consequences years later.
“These young ones, these wannabe chefs in this limp culture, these entitled budding geniuses with their squeeze bottles and public relations people….My heart goes out to them, because the visceral pleasures I felt as a young chef, well that’s all gone. Different world now. But for twenty-four hours they are my soldiers And this is my world, come back to life for this one challenge. We’re going to let it rip. Then we’ll deliver up some killer appetisers. That radio will crackle and we’ll move on to the next kitchen, to the next fight, the next plate of food. Fuck me, this is cooking.” – Gavin Cruikshank
Cruikshank’s efforts pay off and he and Angie are able to find common ground. They work together until the final round, with Cruikshank choosing to go into Kitchen Battle alone, a 24-hour free for all where competitors break into kitchens across New York and cook food no matter the cost. Kitchen Battle is the ultimate metaphor for how over the top and violent reality cooking shows can become. The competitors literally beat each other senseless in order to get to the food and win, which I found darkly funny and poignant.
The art of STARVE is as grim and visceral as the story, featuring lots of shadowy faces and sinister landscapes. The best panels involve the food, with dark colours used throughout to highlight the violence that fine dining can ignite in those who’ve dedicated their lives to cooking.
STARVE: Volume 1 is a gripping graphic novel that shines a light on the absurdity of reality TV, as well as demonstrating how much we can take the environment for granted. Most of all, it will leave you hungry for more. Buy it now on Amazon.