MANGA REVIEW | The Art of Taste in "Emma Dreams of Stars"
In the cuisine critics realm, there are two kinds of people. First you have your foodies, the ones who basically brag about all of the different kinds of meals they have while putting flare over respectable taste. Then you have your inspectors, the people who have mastered the art of gastronomy and know when great food is worthy of being called as such. Emmanuelle Maisonneuve is one such inspector, whose early days of working for the world-renowned Michelin Guide have been captured in the new graphic novel Emma Dreams of Stars.
Co-written with journalist Julia Pavolwitch and drawn by Kan Takahama (Nyx’s Lantern), Emma Dreams of Stars begins with Emmanuelle on her last tests to work for The Michelin Guide. After making the grade, she embarks on a journey through many parts of the world, taking in the sights and flavors of her surroundings. As she works through one restaurant after another, her palette becomes more accustomed to telling the difference between an okay meal and one that’s deserving of the much-touted Michelin Star.
Unlike series like Food Wars! or Restaurant in Another World, there’s no fantastical element to Maisonneuve’s story. Readers will experience the wonderful and harsh truths of working for a top-tier publication like The Michelin Guide, as the workload is as full as a well-nourished belly. Despite her easy-sounding job, Emmanuelle has a lot on her plate when taking on a restaurant. The food quality, the atmosphere, the setting, the aura, and even something so minuscule as how much natural light comes into a restaurant are all judged with determined eyes and taste buds.
It’s this element that makes the job of being an inspector quite grating. In fact, because of the nature of the job, women have never been made inspectors of The Michelin Guide…until Emma came around, that is. Very early on in Emma Dreams of Stars, it’s clear that how things are run at the organization can be seen as sexist, with early judges during Emma’s tryout bringing up the lack of time for dating or having a family. But without using any sort of anger or objection, Emmanuelle finds a way to sway every one of the men, all with the help of her impeccable taste buds and strong articulation.
Soon Emma is pushed through all of France to experience the highs and lows of critiquing restaurants. Current Michelin star recipients are shown having bad days, which will affect their status in the long run. Traveling to Japan has Emma surrounded by a totally different food culture, with foreign ways of making fine cuisine happening right before her eyes. Then there are the hidden discoveries, with one restaurant’s peculiar set up bringing forth the best kind of dining one could even imagine.
One of the great things about Emma Dreams of Stars is how it shows the thinking process when it comes to critiquing food. There are points for being unique with dining, but finding a close familiarity in a top-tier cuisine also brings a realm of positivity. How a food looks also plays an important role, with even the texture of a cherry — no matter how tasty — greatly affecting the overall presentation. Something can be delicious, but it’s hard to convince others of such if the food itself looks grotesque!
Takahama’s art style captures the beauty of French and Japanese cuisine, while showing the importance of facial and body language when in taste test mode. The look of eating delicious food is important to keep the story realistic, and how Takamana brings to life the joys, concerns, and even disappointments of a restaurant experience is shown with the finest care. How the food looks is also terrific, going so far as to showcase the visual aesthetic of both good and bad cuisine presentations.
Emma Dreams of Stars can be considered a niche manga. However, those who have ever wondered what the mentality of professional food critics is like will find a lot to learn about this part of the journalism scene. While making it to the staff of The Michelin Guide is a lot easier said than done, Maisonneuve’s story will give you a great appreciation for the work that goes on to bring the world’s best foods out to the public eye. Emma may dream of stars, but her story will make you dream of trying out every dish that your eyes feast upon here.
Promotional consideration provided by Tomo Tran of Kodansha Manga