Here’s the basic premise of Brave Chef Brianna: a famous chef has become seriously ill, and he summons his 16 children, and tells them that whoever can start and run the most successful restaurant within a year will inherit his cooking empire (restaurants, tv, etc). His youngest child and only daughter is Brianna. She worries that she has less of a chance because her older brothers have all been working in the industry for years, while she’s fresh out of culinary school. The only place she can afford to start is Monster City, which happens to be, yes that’s right, a city full of monsters. Her landlord’s niece Suzan is a harpy and becomes Brianna’s waitress, skeletons are corporate drones, there’s a troll who believes that stories of his kind are rather hurtful and untrue, there’s a giant who might have a little crush on Suzan, and there’s also the lamia Madame Crom, who in addition to being the most renown chef in the city, is highly distrustful of humans, believing them to be oppressive towards monster-kind.
Brianna is not the only or first human in Monster City; her first customer in fact is Kevin Park, who loves that he now has a place that serves human food, but he also warns Brianna about the rules in Monster City. Suzan confirms that the city by-laws (a living tome with teeth and a scary looking purple tongue) state that “No chylde of the city shall allow the taste of man’s flout, nay sugar, nay cooked meat to touch their lips.” This naturally poses a challenge to the new chef, but she manages and eventually she begins to grow a pretty steady customer base. Naturally, things can’t stay going well, so enter Brianna’s older brother (15th child of the family) who wants to beat his sister in person, as well as Madame Crom who just wants the humans gone from her city. One of the best panels in the whole book is when Madame Crom is working on her entry in a cooking challenge that will determine whether or not Brianna can stay in the city, and in the foreground she’s considering a ladle full of something, but in the background are scenes of a younger Madame being shown fear of what she is, scorn, and violence. Sometimes it’s better to have a villain be bad just because, but here, giving her a real genuine reason just works. Her interactions with Suzan also make a bit of a point about generational perspectives.
Most of the story is a about as fluffy fantasy as it sounds, and the plot strikes me as a tad unoriginal, what with things like Drops of God and Food Wars in the anime/manga world, and any number of reality cooking shows. That’s not really a problem in itself, but it does make one problem pretty visible. There’s one thing in this comic that bother me. It’s Brianna’s occasional bouts of crippling self-doubt. Given her character and situation it makes sense, but without hardly any backstory about her culinary background (what kind of student she was, etc), very few details about her relationship with her family other than a lot of sibling competition, or even how she interacts with other people/monsters in general. We don’t see her interact with anyone in much depth beyond Suzan and a little with Kevin, so it’s unclear if her issues have anything to do with being an anxious or introverted person, her family, or something else. When you understand the “villain” character and motives better than the heroine’s, the whole thing feels a little incomplete.