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
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.
Bauermeister treats all her characters with similar care and imagination. Her novel is as magical and healing as the food Lillian and her students create. It's a food novel with ideas, but not recipes. It offers lessons on everything from a simple crab dish (with instructions on how to kill the crabs) to homemade tortillas and salsa ("it was both satisfying and invigorating, full of textures and adventures, like childhood held in your hand") to an elegant white cake with white icing. I read it after Christmas, during a down time in the season and in my life. It brought me more than great pleasure: it made me feel better, but more, it made me feel hopeful and helped me to remember that arid periods pass, that life gets its flavors back. (Reviewed by Joanne Collings).
Oregon Live - Elizabeth Lopeman
Bauermeister's language, both lyrical and descriptive, paints warm scenes filled with enticing images of food. While she flirts with narrative tension, she rarely broaches any telling character traits and fuzzy conflicts are neatly resolved. Lillian's subjects are best when they're vehicles for descriptions of delectable things to eat. ... The School of Essential Ingredients reads like a yummy bedtime story, with agreeable characters and dreamy dishes.
[T]he book feels less empathetic and more hokey and melodramatic ... The stifling humidity of the prose will push a lot of readers out of this kitchen.
Each section of this tasty novel tells the story of a different character. The effect is a series of pearl-like vignettes stretched out along a narrative string.
In this remarkable debut, Bauermeister creates a captivating world where the pleasures and particulars of sophisticated food come to mean much more than simple epicurean indulgence.
Kate Jacobs, author of The Friday Night Knitting Club
The perfect recipe for escaping from life's stresses, from savoring the delicious ingredients of Lillian's recipes to the calm and thoughtful rhythm of Erica Bauermeister's luminous prose.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Louise J Absolutely Loved It!! I loved this story! It was like a savoury meal shared with friends. The aroma and flavours of the food matched the conversation and the moods of those participating in the experience. The pungent aroma of spices almost had a hypnotic effect on... Read More
Rated of 5
by MB Howard Treat for my senses I recommend this novel to those who appreciate character driven stories and cook with love.
Cooking by Feel
Although Lillian calls her cooking classes "The School of Essential Ingredients" and has been asked what those are, she doesn't keep a list of them, nor are any of her recipes written down. While she does acknowledge that baking requires a more carefully balanced set of ingredients (she also believes that couples should make their own wedding cakes
"as part of preparation for their lives together"), cooking allows considerably more freedom. Cooking is
"all about preference."
Most of us are used to a kind of cooking that begins with recipes: a list of measured ingredients and instructions on what to do with them and when to do it. There may be some variations included, but it all seems more to do with science than taste. It may look like progress, but is it?
Helen Worth's 1959 book
Cooking Without Recipes (Harper & Row) wants her readers
"to think of cooking as an art based on a science, and to make [their] kitchen [their] laboratory." But she also writes:
"Since civilization began, cooks have made love to their...
A timeless novel of a straitlaced village's awakening to joy and sensuality - every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere.
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