Erica Bauermeister – The School of Essential Ingredients
6. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (2009)
Length: 242 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Started: 13 January 2009
Finished: 14 January 2009
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 06 January 2009
The School of Essential Ingredients will be released on 22 January 2009; pre-order a copy from Amazon.
A cooking class is
more than food, it’s about the
process… and people.
Summary: The School of Essential Ingredients gives us a series of interconnected slice-of-life vignettes, revolving around the participants in a cooking class. Chef and restaurant owner Lillian has a knack of feeding people exactly what they need – both in a meal and in life. The participants in her class initially seem to have little in common: a older married couple, a young Italian woman, a frazzled young mother, an elderly woman in the early stages of memory loss, a software engineer, a teen-aged busgirl, and a quiet man with an impenetrable air of sadness. However, as the course progresses, the miracle of the food they are preparing reaches them – and they reach out to each other.
Review: This book takes the idea that scent (and therefore food) is the strongest link to memory (and therefore emotion) and runs with it. Through the metaphor of food and cooking, we’re given access into the lives, memories, and emotions of each of the participants in the class, and through that filter, into our own lives and loves. This slim novel wears its heart on its sleeve – love of food, love of cooking, love of friends and family, love of everything that is slow and beautiful, love of love – and the result is a story simultaneously a joy for the senses and incredibly touching (and yes, I got misty-eyed more than once). My only real complaint is that sometimes the writing gets a little simile-happy, but this is a forgivable flaw. Seeing as we don’t have very many words in the English language to describe flavors and smells, a book that is so focused on the sensual experience of food really doesn’t have many other options. Ultimately, this book winds up feeling like a good meal – deserving of being savored, light enough to be easily digestible, but leaving you feeling completely satisfied. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Not just for serious foodies, I think this book would appeal to anyone who likes modern literary fiction and appreciates the good things in life. I would NOT recommend reading this if you haven’t eaten for a while, though, because if you’re not hungry going into this, you most definitely will be by the time you’re done.
Quote: (from an uncorrected proof; text may be different in the published edition)
“But you are beautiful,” Chloe insisted.
Antonia laughed softly. “I used to say that to my mother all the time. … I was not a pretty teenager. And do you know what she would say to me?”
Chloe shook her head.
“She would say ‘Life is beautiful. Some people just remind you of that more than others.'”
Dar at Peeking between the Pages is giving away a copy of this book on 24 Jan; you can enter her giveaway here.
Links: Official web page (with excerpt)
First Line: Lillian loved best the moment before she turned on the lights.