Saturday, February 7, 2009

Review: The School of Essential Ingredients

Summary: Reminiscent of Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate, a gorgeously written novel about life, love, and the magic of food.

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. - Putnam

THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS by Erica Bauermeister is a marvelous read. I have to say that I absolutely adored this book, and I'm going to be recommending it to everyone. This book was so enjoyable to read. I loved the culinary descriptions (in fact, I was so hungry while reading this story). But, my favorite parts of the novel were the tidbits of wisdom that were presented so beautifully throughout. This book is definitely meant to be savored just like a fine dinner or a fine wine! It's also a lot like a great meal in that you enjoy it while you're eating it, but you don't want it to ever end.

I love how Ms. Bauermeister chose to tell this story - each chapter in the book tells the story of one of the students in the cooking class. Naturally, all of the students are there for a different reason and often times it's not to learn how to cook. I enjoyed learning about each of the students' lives, both the good and the bad times; and I liked seeing how the cooking class enhanced their lives. While I did enjoy all of the chapters, I found myself especially touched by the chapter on Tom, a young man who lost his wife to cancer. I thought the writing in this chapter was just so incredibly special.

I positively loved Lillian, the chef who teaches everyone to cook. I enjoyed the chapter on her life, but I really appreciated how she was able to tie food and cooking with the every day events in people's lives. She was such an insightful and encouraging woman, and I thought all of her tidbits of wisdom were so profound. What I found even more special in this story was that not only did Lillian provide such wonderful advice as the instructor, but all of the students ended up giving parts of themselves and reaching out to the others in the class. It was such a heart-warming story.

THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS is Erica Bauermeister's first novel, and I seriously hope she intends to write more! She has also written LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE GIRLS - 375 GREAT BOOKS FOR READERS 2-14 which I definitely need to check out for some book recommendations for my daughter. I loved Ms. Bauermeister's storytelling, her character development and her beautiful descriptions of food. There is an interview with the author that I thoroughly enjoyed reading; and I think it made me appreciate (and love) the book even more.

I'm pretty sure that a lot of book clubs are going to be reading THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS in the upcoming months. I think it would be a wonderful book to discuss among friends. There is a discussion guide available to help you keep your meeting on track. Some of the major themes that I'm sure you will want to talk about are: death/grief, healing, marriage/infidelity, romance, friendships, motherhood, finding one's self, and of course the importance of food in our lives. I can just imagine the goodies that you could serve at the meeting since there are so many references to food and desserts in this book.

A big thanks to Putnam and Mothertalk for choosing me to participate in this book blog tour.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you loved this book, too. It's one that I will probably read over again.

Anonymous said...

I also loved this book! Didn't the meals sound so fantastic? It made me want to take a class, or at least try harder in the kitchen! BTW Erica Bauermeister is going to be guest posting on my blog soon and will be sharing a recipe from her book.

Anonymous said...

This was a delicious book, wasn't it? I loved it and will definitely check out any of Bauermeister's further fiction.

S. Krishna said...

I've been hearing such great things about this book, I definitely want to read it! I have it from the library but I just finished Unholy Mischief and don't want to read the two too close together since they're both about food! I'm hoping to get to it this week though!

Jill said...

I didn't want this one to of my favorite reads in awhile. I'm pushing this into everyone's hands...

Anna said...

I LOVED the book! Glad you enjoyed it as well. I agree that it makes you hungry. I shouldn't have read it on an empty stomach.

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