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The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Posted Jul 27 2011 8:00am

Title: The School of Essential Ingredients
Author: Erica Bauermeister
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Fiction
Publisher/Date: Putnam, 2009
Source: Library copy

About the Book
The School of Essential Ingredients follows the lives of eight students who gather in Lillian’s Restaurant for a 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.

My Thoughts
Gorgeous is probably the best word to describe this book. The writing, the characters, the food ~ all are exquisite! I was entranced by this book from beginning to end, and not just by the delectable recipes. Lillian’s story opens the book and shows us the power of food to restore something lost as she connects with her mother after her father abandoned them. From there, we see how she passes on this gift to others through her classes.

Although each chapter focuses on a different student in the class, their stories are as intertwined as their lives become throughout the book. It was hard to believe this was Ms. Bauermeister’s first novel. I have already checked out Joy For Beginners , her second novel, and am greatly looking forward to reading it as well.

Note: This is Book #61 of my 2011 Reads ( master list here ).

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