REVIEW: The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

the school of essential ingredientsFormat:  Trade Paperback
Genre:  General Fiction
ISBN:  978-0-425-23209-5
Published:  2010

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Back of the Book Blurb:

Once a month, on a Monday night, eight students gather in Lillian’s restaurant for a cooking class. Among them is Claire, a young woman coming to terms with her new identity as a mother; Tom, a lawyer whose life has been overturned by loss; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer adapting to life in America; and Carl and Helen, a long-married couple whose union contains surprises the rest of the class would never suspect…

The students have come to learn the art behind Lillian’s soulful dishes, but it soon becomes clear that each seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. And, one by one, they are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of what they create.

My Thoughts:

It was the title of this book that initially caught my attention. I am a sucker for a good title, and if coupled with a beautiful cover, it is almost impossible to resist it. This book did not disappoint. It is a love affair with food, from the title to the last page, and in a way that slows you down, insisting on savoring both the food and the story (or perhaps stories) coupled with it.

Among the many things to love about this book, I loved how the author infused the book with her own love for food, creating a completely authentic tone. The chef respects the food, and rather than forcing her own ideas into a concoction that may or may not work, she innately senses what ingredients will work together to become a dish that will transport palates to new dimensions. In her cooking classes, she not only teaches her students to cook, but to trust (and use) their instincts, and to slow down and take the time to really appreciate what they are eating. It’s a metaphor for life, intended or not, and it is worth noting.

There is something to be said for how food can provide comfort, from celebrating new life to nursing heartache to honoring a life well lived. This book covers all of that terrain and more, drawing on all of the senses in the process, and in the end it is a story that ends before you’re ready to leave it. In my mind, that’s the best kind of ending.

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