Book Review ~ The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

the-school-of-essential-ingredientsSummary ~ The School of Essential Ingredientsby Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients follows the lives of eight students who gather in Lillian’s Restaurant every Monday night for cooking class. It soon becomes clear, however, that each one seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. Students include Claire, a young mother struggling with the demands of her family; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer learning to adapt to life in America; and Tom, a widower mourning the loss of his wife to breast cancer. Chef Lillian, a woman whose connection with food is both soulful and exacting, helps them to create dishes whose flavor and techniques expand beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of her students’ lives. One by one the students are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of Lillian’s food, including a white-on-white cake that prompts wistful reflections on the sweet fragility of love and a peppery heirloom tomato sauce that seems to spark one romance but end another. Brought together by the power of food and companionship, the lives of the characters mingle and intertwine, united by the revealing nature of what can be created in the kitchen.

Having recently re-located back to the DC area and wanting to create a book club with my friends, I thought that The School of Essential Ingredients would be the perfect first selection.  I think I hit the nail on the head folks!  Lit & The City ladies, what say you?  What a wonderful, fun, interesting, educational and cozy book author Erica Bauermeister has gifted the reading and cooking community with. 

The core of the story is about eight people coming together to take a cooking class at a local restaurant in (I think Seattle) the Pacific Northwest under the instruction of the restaurant owner and head chef, Lillian.  What we get when these people come together from all different backgrounds for one common goal, to cook, is nothing short of a wonderful, memorable and inspirational book.  There’s Helen and Carl, a married couple in their sixties or so, who though they have faced crisis in their marriage are stronger for it and have rekindled their romance.  The observations they make to each other about their fellow classmates are made from experience.  There’s Chloe, who at first is a lost soul looking for romance and a home in the wrong places but then finds love and family where she least expects it.  Claire, a young mother who is loosing herself in her daily life, has the shortest back story of them all but may have gotten the most out of the actual process of cooking.  Antonia is a woman who has left a life of peace, familiarity and family for a new adventure on a new continent but finds herself grounded by her past.  Then there is Ian.  A great character in and out of the kitchen and who finds himself in search of the next culinary challenge to take on. 

Of course I had some favorite characters because of their back stories.  My absolute favorite character was Isabelle and the metamorphosis that took place within her after the exit of her husband and she found herself.  Though now she suffers from memory loss and mix-matched memories, her life was rich with relationships, children and then the adventures she made for herself. 

Tom was my second favorite character because of the depths of his love for a woman and the sorrow that replaced that love.  Food played a huge roll in his relationship with the love of his life and attending the cooking class is equal parts difficult and therapeutic for him.  The curiosity and dread of finding out the details of Tom’s back story made his part of the book extremely effective for me. 

I must emphasize that there may be eight students and a teacher that make up this wonderful book but they are all held together by the tenth, and at times, most important character of all.  The food!  Erica Bauermeister had me salivating and my stomach growling throughout her intimate and divine descriptions of the class dishes and other recipes being prepared here and there.  It really was cruel and unusual punishment for me since our house with our new gourmet kitchen won’t be ready for another two weeks and then we still have to wait for our household goods shipment to arrive and be unpacked.  Erica’s talent for food writing is spectacular and at times I could smell the ingredients and the dishes as the characters prepared them in class and at home waft off the page and up to my nose! 

I look forward to discussing The School of Essential Ingredients with my book club, Lit & The City, but I also hope if you have read Erica Bauermeister’s masterpiece that you will share with us here at Planet Books your thoughts on it.  Erica Bauermeister’s website can be found HERE.

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

5 thoughts on “Book Review ~ The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

  1. I liked it – one of my favorites of 2009 and has the distinction of being the first book I read on my Kindle (in March). Here’s what I wrote:
    “. . . a feast for the senses. Erica Bauermeister’s writing is lyrical, though not flowery. Her words flow easily as she describes the impact of ingredients on recipes just as decisions and actions impact the students’ lives. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. ”

    Hope your book club enjoys it!

    • Hi Mary and thanks for stopping by Planet Books! I LOVE your description of the book and Erica’s writing. So far a couple of the book clubbers have really loved the book too.

  2. 4 stars from this Lit & The City Book Club member :) As I told Karen, this book was like a delicious dream I didn’t want to wake from. My one criticism is actually a compliment, I wish Erica gave us a second round of character development…there was no time to hit snooze in this literary dream! I felt the author just scratched the surface getting us invested in the characters when their feature ends. Maybe I’ve been spoiled? One of my favorite authors, Jennifer Weiner, does this very well, especially in Little Earthquakes. She uses the same format but delves deeper into the internal conflict, relationships, and psyche of each character, in addition to how they are intertwined into a patchwork quilt or like the pastry lattice on a fresh steaming apple pie. Erica, I loved your book enough to come back for seconds, but the kitchen was closed :(

    • Hi Hillz! Little Earthquakes is my favorite book by Jennifer Weiner and I do see your point. You’re right about your one criticism being a compliment. Maybe we’ll get a new cooking class to read about from Erica and there will be even more depth and flavor than last time. I am soo glad you loved the book though.

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