Reading guide for The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The School of Essential Ingredients

by Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister X
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2009, 256 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2010, 272 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Joanne Collings
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

Discussion questions

  1. When Claire first walks into Lillian's, she reflects: "When was the last time she had been someplace where no one knew who she was?" Is the anonymity of the kitchen a lure for Lillian's students?
  2. How did you respond to the story of Lillian's upbringing? Would Lillian have been better off with a more traditional home life, like those of her school friends? Do you agree with Abuelita's statement that "sometimes our greatest gifts grow from what we are not given"?
  3. Besides scenes from her childhood, the author discloses very little about Lillian. Why do you think she did this? How would the book be different if we knew more about Lillian's day-to-day life?
  4. As a general rule, Lillian doesn't give her students recipes. Why do you think she does this? What are the pros and cons of this approach to cooking?
  5. Did Helen do the right thing by telling Carl about her affair? How would their marriage—and Helen and Carl themselves—have evolved had he never learned the truth?
  6. Each of the character's stories centers on a dish or an ingredient that has a profound effect upon how they see themselves or the world. What connections do you see between Claire and the crabs? Between Chloe and tortillas? Tom and the pasta sauce?
  7. Although we only see Charlie, Tom's wife, in flashback, she seems to share Lillian's love of essential ingredients.  What do you make of Charlie's statement that "We're all just ingredients. What matters is the grace with which you cook the meal"?
  8. Chloe observes that Thanksgiving at her house is "about everyone being the same, and if you're not, eating enough so you won't notice." Is this something that our culture buys into in a larger sense?  How does Lillian's approach to food fly in the face of this idea?
  9. Isaac says to Isabelle that he thinks "we are each a chair and a ladder for the other." What do you think he means? Are there people in your life who are or have been that for you?
  10. Lillian tells the class that "a holiday is a lot like a kitchen.  What's important is what comes out of it." In what way do the kitchens in this book—Lillian's childhood kitchen, the greasy spoon where Tom meets Charlie, the kitchen that Antonia saves from demolition—represent different celebrations of life? Is there a kitchen in your life that you associate with a particular celebration or emotional milestone?
  11. At the end of the novel, Lillian reflects that: "She saw how connected [the students'] lives had become and would remain. Where did a teacher fit in the picture, she wondered, when there was no longer a class?" What does happen to Lillian once her class is disbanded? Do you feel that each character's story is resolved? What do you imagine happens in these characters' lives after the book ends?
  12. What would be your essential ingredients?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Berkley Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Cooking by Feel

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Moth
    Moth
    by Melody Razak
    On August 15, 1947, India gained independence from the United Kingdom, and on that same day the ...
  • Book Jacket: All the Lonely People
    All the Lonely People
    by Mike Gayle
    Mike Gayle's charming novel All the Lonely People introduces us to Hubert Bird, an 82-year-old ...
  • Book Jacket: Perish
    Perish
    by LaToya Watkins
    It's a commonly cited fact that many perpetrators of sexual abuse, particularly men, are victims of ...
  • Book Jacket: Afterlives
    Afterlives
    by Abdulrazak Gurnah
    Afterlives, from Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah, begins in late 19th century East Africa in ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Family Izquierdo
    by Rubén Degollado

    A masterful debut that weaves together the lives of three generations of a Mexican American family bound by love, and a curse.

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.

Who Said...

If every country had to write a book about elephants...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y Can't G H A

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.