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Erica Bauermeister – The School of Essential Ingredients

January 16, 2009

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
Verdict? Keeper

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.'”

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

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)

Other Reviews: Books and Movies, Peeking Between the Pages, Diary of an Eccentric
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Lillian loved best the moment before she turned on the lights.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2009 8:40 am

    I’ve read two chapters of this and so far, I love it! Thanks for the review.

  2. January 16, 2009 7:55 pm

    Oh, I so loved this book – I want to read it again after reading your review!

  3. January 16, 2009 11:19 pm

    I love your little warning about not reading if you are hungry. Haha! This does sound good. Thanks for the great review!

  4. January 17, 2009 7:55 am

    I’m not a serious foodie but I love fictional books about food (especially culinary mysteries for some reason lol). This is going to go on my wishlist, thanks!

  5. January 17, 2009 9:11 am

    bermudaonion – I hope you’re continuing to enjoy it!

    Carrie K. – I thought it went quick enough that it wouldn’t take that long for a re-read. :)

    Literary Feline – Even worse, I was reading this when I was hungry AND I had no food in the house – and eating canned soup after reading just really doesn’t cut it.

    Ladytink – I don’t know that I’ve read that many, but I do like food books too. This one sort of felt like a hybrid of Jane Austen Book Club and Like Water for Chocolate, except without the magical realism of the second and without the weird writing style of the first.

  6. January 17, 2009 12:22 pm

    I’ve heard good things about this one, great review :) I like that quote.

  7. January 17, 2009 12:41 pm

    I’ve been seeing this all over, and the more I read about it, the more I’m convinced I need to read it!

  8. January 17, 2009 1:04 pm

    This sounds like fun! I’ve just placed a hold on it at my library. Thanks for the review!

  9. January 18, 2009 9:32 am

    bookworm – The book is full of nuggets like that, I just picked one out to illustrate.

    Lenore – It’s a quick read, even if you force yourself to take it slowly.

    Darla – I hope you enjoy it!

  10. January 18, 2009 11:53 pm

    This sounds like a great comfort read that weaves lives of different people together. I have added it to my list.

    For your information, a novel that is woven with recipes and food history is The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester.

  11. January 19, 2009 9:32 am

    Matthew – That’s an excellent way to put it. I haven’t heard of that book (or that author), but I’m off to investigate… thanks for the tip!

  12. January 19, 2009 11:04 am

    Just popping by to say I loved this book! I skimmed your review as I haven’t written mine yet (don’t want to be influenced by someone else’s review) but I see that you rated it highly.

  13. January 20, 2009 4:56 pm

    lisamm – Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did! If I miss your review, just send me a reminder and I’ll add the link.

  14. January 23, 2009 3:17 pm

    “full of nuggets like that” … I laughed at that comment because it made me think of chicken nuggets, and from your review I think chicken cordon bleu is more what I’ll be expecting in the pages of this book.

    I have this on my TBR and will look forward to it (we’re expecting more snow, so I’ll settle in to read!)

  15. January 23, 2009 4:19 pm

    Dawn – Hee hee hee, true. Although if they were homemade free-range chicken nuggets coated in a parmesan-encrusted herbed corn batter, the making of which which imparted some spiritual message about the deeper meanings of love and life, then maybe. :)

  16. February 11, 2009 8:22 am

    I loved this book! I just reviewed it and linked to your review here.

  17. February 11, 2009 8:46 am

    Thanks for letting me know! I’ve updated my links.

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