The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Published: January 22, 2009
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Book Summary: 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.
My Thoughts: This is a wonderful book. It made me feel warm and cozy and hungry! I adored the characters; especially Lillian who’s not only an incredible chef but she almost seems to be a little bit magician. Lillian understands food and people and when she gets them together, she weaves a wonderful kind of magic that includes aromatic ingredients that meld together to create delicious and beautiful food. But there’s something else going on, too. Lillian’s cooking classes are a kind of therapy. Her students finish the class able to create delicious dishes and they’ve made some life-long friends. But even more, Lillian’s students come alive in her class; they find themselves and whatever was missing from their lives. Whatever the trouble, pain or angst they were struggling or dealing with when the cooking class began is resolved over the course of the class.
Lillian lifted the cake pans from the oven and rested them on metal racks on the counter. The layers rose level and smooth from the pans: the scent, tinged with vanilla, traveled across the room in soft, heavy waves, filling the space with whispers of other kitchens, other loves. The students found themselves leaning forward in their chairs to greet the smells and the memories that came with them. Breakfast cake baking on a snow day off from school, all the world on holiday. The sound of cookie sheets clanging against the metal oven racks. The bakery that was the reason to get up on cold, dark mornings; a croissant placed warm in a young woman’s hand on her way to the job she never meant to have. Christmas, Valentines, birthdays, flowing together, one cake after another, lit by eyes bright with love.
Erica Bauermeister’s writing is wonderful and delicious. Her descriptions of the food and the different dishes are sublime and almost had me drooling. Her prose describes a scene in such a way that I was able to picture it almost as if I was there. She brings the places in the book, such as Lilly’s restaurant and its kitchen to life. It’s like her words paint us a picture. Bauermeister does the same thing with her characters. She describes them with just enough and the right detail, that we can fill in the rest and see them in Lilly’s kitchen or in their home. Bauermeister’s writing drew me into the story immediately. I was hooked and didn’t want to stop reading. This is a delightful story with joyous moments and sad ones. It’s about love, loss, friendship and life and celebrating it all. I highly recommend this book.