Emmanuelle Maisonneuve, like many of us, has always loved food and truly enjoys seeking out new and unusual cuisine. Getting a job as an inspector for The Michelin Guide, one of the people who tries out restaurants and writes the reviews that are read world-wide, is a dream come true for her, one that she goes into fully aware that of the challenges (it’s a job that requires the inspectors to be on the road nearly full time, eating and sleeping in a different place every single time) but embraces it anyway.
Emma lives in France and thus is working on the French edition of The Michelin Guide and all of the restaurants that we see her touring professionally seem to be focused on French fare. I have a small amount of familiarity for French-style cooking and I definitely think that the greater your experience with it the more you’ll enjoy Emma’s trips and the book as a whole. The book does provide some welcome footnotes about the dishes and I recognized a few others but I found myself doing the reading equivalent of smiling and nodding for a lot of this book. Thankfully Emma’s internal dialogue did help with filling in the gaps: giving me a sense of what the dish tasted like, whether the foods paired well with each other, if a part of the meal was under-salted, etc. So even if you don’t have a lot of familiarity with French cuisine, as long as you like food itself you’ll get something out of Emma’s fast-paced gastronomic travels.
It is a little strange that the copyright page for this book says “This is a work of fiction” when the very next page has Emma introducing the story and ending with “This story is my story.” As I understand it, while not every conversation between Emma and her colleagues, or every meal she ate, is a 100% reproduction of what actually happened, that the spirit of these events is faithful to her experiences. I’m not sure if this story can be properly called a memoir since it’s so tightly focused on just one aspect of Emma’s life, her experiences as a Michelin inspector, while leaving other parts of her life private. We see some conversations with her friend and texts with a boyfriend but that isn’t the focus of Emma Dreams of Stars and I do respect that choice.
I am slightly puzzled by Kodansha’s decision to put out this book given that it’s only a “manga” in some ways; Maisonneuve and writer Julia Pavlowitch are both French and this book was originally published in France before being published in Japan where artist Kan Takahama works. I like Takahama’s art a lot. I’ve been hoping for ages that some of her other works (like Nyx’s Lantern) would get picked up over here, and the somewhat simple, realistic art style she uses here works great for Emma Dreams of Stars. The full color art and detailed food drawings certainly helped me grasp dishes that were unfamiliar to me and Takahama is able to retain that realism even when exaggerating people’s faces for shock and other high emotions (something that happens quite often when an inspector for The Michelin Guide pops by and the next ten minutes potentially decides the fate for your establishment for years to come). Between both the subject and the art I definitely think that this Vertical imprint title would be more accessible for adult, manga-curious readers than many other adult series, although I’m unsure of how comics readers who rarely dabble in manga at all would feel about it.
I’ll confess that I had never thought much about The Michelin Guide before this book, as while there is a guide for DC, the Bib Gourmand price point is still $40+ which is far outside my price range for a single meal without leftovers. But if I approach this series as a hobby manga, that is one that’s enthusiastic about a certain subject and wants to teach me more about it, then yes, there’s plenty here to be enjoyed and savored (even if some details confused me, like how the inspectors will show their identification card but never give out their real name, with Emma being the first female inspector that subterfuge seems pointless). Emma’s travel across France have made me much more aware of French dishes I should try if I ever visit (I couldn’t understand why she and her coworkers complained about being assigned to the boonies, those areas looked absolutely gorgeous) and it was nice to see how professional critics approach describing and rating a meal.
In some ways it’s one of the more esoteric releases of 2021, but that doesn’t stop it from being a rather nice one and done story about food and the people who love to love food.