“I think Valentine’s Day is a gift, like the weather we had today. Here we are in the midst of winter. Our skin has been hibernating in layers of clothes for months; we are accustomed to gray. We can start to think that this is how it always will be. And then, there’s Valentine’s Day. A day to look in your lover’s eyes and see color. To eat something that plays with your taste buds and to remember romance.”
– The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Prepare yourself for a cooking school like none other. In her debut novel, Erica Bauermeister delicately intermingles the art of cooking with relationships and life. Chef Lillian possesses a unique, almost magical talent. She instinctively sees inside each individual student in her cooking class and discovers which ingredients make them tick.
The School of Essential Ingredients begins with Lillian’s childhood and her father’s departure from the family. Her mother draws inward to cope with the loss, seeks consolation in her books and all but neglects Lillian. It is during this time that Lillian discovers her culinary talent and realizes that food has the power to change lives. As an adult, Lillian owns her own restaurant where once-a-month she holds a special cooking class. Eight different individuals enroll and find their lives transformed as a result. The chapters following the introduction of Lillian’s childhood each focus on a different student, a series of vignettes.
My favorite part of the book? Bauermeister has a remarkable ability to write real characters. Readers will most likely identify with at least one of the students or Lillian herself. I was blown-away by her portrayal of Claire, the stay-at-home mom. It was uncanny how well she described feelings that I’ve experienced myself, depictions of pregnancy, breastfeeding and the need to be not just someone’s mommy but your own person again. Only someone who has been a mom could write with such clarity. In fact, on her website biography she writes, “I think differently, I create the work I do, because I have had children.”
Bauermeister’s poetic writing, full of rich metaphors, leaves you craving to read more. The book is so well written it could be considered one great big quote and has deservedly received many glowing reviews. The cover art is as appealing as the book’s contents. To the dismay of some, the book doesn’t contain exact recipes with measurements, but it gives plenty of insights and certainly inspires one to cook with feeling.
Sure to become a book club favorite, the The School of Essential Ingredients is best digested slowly, savored like a thoughtfully prepared meal. The book certainly leaves me wondering what essential ingredients I might need in my life. I’m left feeling rather ashamed at my own half-hearted food preparation. Sign me up for the next class, um, I mean novel! By the way, after reading The School of Essential Ingredients, I’ll never view the act of peeling a potato in the same light. You’ll have to read the book for yourself to understand.
The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister. Putnam Adult (January 2009); 256 pages; ISBN 9780399155437
Erica Bauermeister Official Website
The School of Essential Ingredients Penguin Reading Guide
I'm not about to part with my copy, but here's a giveaway for the book on another blog:
So Many Books, So Little Time - Book Giveaway Ends 2/13/09
Thanks to MotherTalk and Putnam for this review opportunity.