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The School of Essential Ingredients

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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 stru/>The 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.


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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 stru/>The 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.

30 review for The School of Essential Ingredients

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Kelsey

    Hmmmm...I see a lot of people here liked this book. For me the writing style was almost embarrassingly florid, and simile-laden. WAY too saccherine for me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    The School of Essential Ingredients is a story of a cooking class, but is oh so much more! The spices, smells, textures, and flavors throughout the book are used as connection points to the students, their lives, memories, needs, and secrets. As you read this book, you get a warm, cozy feeling from it that lingers with you. You can almost smell and taste right through the book. This is a book I probably would never have picked up, and if I had, it would have taken a long time for me to finally t The School of Essential Ingredients is a story of a cooking class, but is oh so much more! The spices, smells, textures, and flavors throughout the book are used as connection points to the students, their lives, memories, needs, and secrets. As you read this book, you get a warm, cozy feeling from it that lingers with you. You can almost smell and taste right through the book. This is a book I probably would never have picked up, and if I had, it would have taken a long time for me to finally take the time to read it. It just doesn't sound as entertaining as it is. I found this book to be well worth the read and I'll look forward to more from this author.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    ***oops--I misposted this review with the wrong book earlier this week. Sorry! I'm blaming holiday craziness! This is a glorious book. It's about food as a touchstone and a means for memory, community, nurturing, healing, loving, seduction, sustenance, pleasure, joy, beginning, endings--life. It is the story of a cooking class that learns far more than culinary skills at the hands of a chef whose wisdom is not limited to food stuffs. The language is lush and decadent, roll ***oops--I misposted this review with the wrong book earlier this week. Sorry! I'm blaming holiday craziness! This is a glorious book. It's about food as a touchstone and a means for memory, community, nurturing, healing, loving, seduction, sustenance, pleasure, joy, beginning, endings--life. It is the story of a cooking class that learns far more than culinary skills at the hands of a chef whose wisdom is not limited to food stuffs. The language is lush and decadent, rolling off the page and into your mind like a drug. I could taste, smell, see and feel everything as if I was indeed standing at the prep table myself. This is Bauermeister's first novel, but the power and magic in her prose tells me that it is far from her last. Fans of Harris's Chocolat will be crazy about this book, but I would recommend it for foodies of any sort, and really just about anyone--this book casts a powerful spell that makes you see, feel and taste the world, even your memories, in a new, deep, consuming way.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Margitte

    I am not sure if this book can be called a culinary exercise in poetic philosophy. But if it can work, then that is what I feel it is. Add a touch of fairyland and a dollop of romance to it and the end result is a gentle, dreamy, adventure into vegetables and meat. Lilian runs a restaurant and offers cooking classes on Monday evenings when her business is closed. Through her teachings she is changing the lives of the participants who all came for different reasons to attend the lesson I am not sure if this book can be called a culinary exercise in poetic philosophy. But if it can work, then that is what I feel it is. Add a touch of fairyland and a dollop of romance to it and the end result is a gentle, dreamy, adventure into vegetables and meat. Lilian runs a restaurant and offers cooking classes on Monday evenings when her business is closed. Through her teachings she is changing the lives of the participants who all came for different reasons to attend the lessons. They all come to mend, find, or understand love in their lives. They are taught how to handle stress, loneliness, disappointment and loss. Love is actually the essential ingredient of not only life, but also food. She teaches them how to change any food into a work of love. So the book is aptly titled The School of Essential Ingredients" Somewhere the book was a national bestseller. I am happy to know that. But for me it did not work at all. Perhaps it is because I have read similar books in which herbs and spices played the main role,or kick-started much-needed change in the characters' lives. This book does the same, but ended up leaving me with the sound of chalk scratching on a black board. Perhaps I am not in the right mindset for it. A bad-hair day review. The text is beautiful but boring. There is neither excitement, nor exhilaration. I constantly fell asleep. It took me three days of trying and persisting. Don't get me wrong. I do love cooking, plant my own herbs and vegetables, and believe in tasting the actual ingredients in a dish, not smothering it with overbearing rich sauces. I love smelling the lavender and rose-scented geraniums in the garden, and I always close my eyes and smell the seductive flavors when opening new bottles of magical spices. The first thing I do when approaching a plant, is smell the leaves. It is instinct. I appreciate the secret seduction that herbs and spices bring to food. I always smell something first before I actually see it. So this book should have been a thrill. It was not. For instance, compared to 'Chocolat' - it is sadly lacking. I will rate it two stars because I bought and read it, and will give it to someone who also loves cooking and believe in romancing the scallops in their lives. I am sure it will change someone's perceptions of cooking who needs it and thrive on sentimental teachings. Prose was good. Idea was good. Plot worked. The cover was really something very special. The story just needed a touch of drama to make it more believable and exciting, less prescriptive and preachy. If all the similes and metaphors vanished from the narrative, very little would remain to support an actual believable story. Two stars says it was OK. Not bad. OK. Forgettable.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    The School of Essential Ingredients is a quick read focused on a Monday night cooking class held at a popular local restaurant, Lillian's. Lillian herself presides over these classes and, as someone who has always had an intrinsic understanding of the power of food to heal and comfort, she eagerly awaits each new class to see the transformations (some positive, some negative) that her students undergo as they respond to the food around them. The novel opens as Lillian welcomes her new students: a beautiful The School of Essential Ingredients is a quick read focused on a Monday night cooking class held at a popular local restaurant, Lillian's. Lillian herself presides over these classes and, as someone who has always had an intrinsic understanding of the power of food to heal and comfort, she eagerly awaits each new class to see the transformations (some positive, some negative) that her students undergo as they respond to the food around them. The novel opens as Lillian welcomes her new students: a beautiful woman, a happily married older couple, a harried young mother, an analytic young man, an uncertain and undefined young woman, an older woman who is losing her memory, and a damaged man. Each chapter in the novel is told from the point of view of one of the students, as we find out more about their pasts, discover their reasons for taking the class, and witness how new relationships are forged. Just as the ingredients in a recipe blend together to create a new whole, so, too, do the lives of the students intersect in surprising ways. I was initially drawn to this book because of its focus on food, which turned out to be the least compelling aspect of the book for me. Instead, it's the character sketches that held the most intrigue for me. To the outside world, these are ordinary people in ordinary circumstances, but as Bauermeister delves into each character's past, we find that the masks we present to the world hide life's scars, personal insecurities, and profound tragedies. Reading each character's narrative is a little like people watching--only instead of wondering what the lives of strangers are like, we actually get to peek inside their lives. The most accomplished of these narratives is the story of Carl and Helen, the older couple whose seemingly happy marriage, as we learn from seeing the story of their early life together from each spouse's perspective, was hard-earned and not as simple as they make it look. In fact, the one thing about the book that almost sabotaged it for me by tipping the scales too much in the direction of saccharine sentimentality turned out to be the connections to food, especially in the form of Lillian. Lillian is presented as an omniscient mystic, who somehow always knows what lessons in food will actually translate into the life lessons her individual students need to pick them up, dust them off, and set them down the right path in life. While Lillian's own back story does provide a context for this, it did seem a little too contrived. However, it certainly wasn't enough of a distraction to prevent me from enjoying and recommending the book. Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder

  6. 5 out of 5

    JoAnn/QuAppelle

    While I did finish this book, mainly to read about the food, this topic has been done before and done better, I think (by Joanne Harris and Sarah Addison Allen). I did not mind the magical realism (I am a fan of Alice Hoffman's, after all!) but the writing left a lot to be desired. I found the writing repetitious and the author used FAR TOO MANY SIMILES. By the middle of the book I was mentally groaning every time I encountered yet another simile. Another thing that annoyed me was her over-use o While I did finish this book, mainly to read about the food, this topic has been done before and done better, I think (by Joanne Harris and Sarah Addison Allen). I did not mind the magical realism (I am a fan of Alice Hoffman's, after all!) but the writing left a lot to be desired. I found the writing repetitious and the author used FAR TOO MANY SIMILES. By the middle of the book I was mentally groaning every time I encountered yet another simile. Another thing that annoyed me was her over-use of descriptive words.... grrrr. Unnecessary verbiage in books really bothers my inner editor. The charming characters were well-developed and the food descriptions were delicious. 3 minus would be my actual rating.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Kitzmiller

    When an ARC arrives at my house, it usually goes in the stack of ARCs waiting to be read. But recently, I have cut down on ARC requests and have been diligently making my way through them. I’m pretty sure I only have one left in the stack to read. So, when The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister arrived on Tuesday, it was serendipitous timing - I had just finished Blindspot, and hadn’t picked up another book yet. I started it Tuesday night, staying up way too late re When an ARC arrives at my house, it usually goes in the stack of ARCs waiting to be read. But recently, I have cut down on ARC requests and have been diligently making my way through them. I’m pretty sure I only have one left in the stack to read. So, when The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister arrived on Tuesday, it was serendipitous timing - I had just finished Blindspot, and hadn’t picked up another book yet. I started it Tuesday night, staying up way too late reading. It grabbed me immediately, the food metaphors rolling around in my brain and making me hungry. Bauermeister’s writing is lyrical and heady, and drew me right into the stories of these strangers who come together to take a cooking class. The class is facilitated by Lillian, a chef and restaurant owner. Every Monday night, the class gathers in her restaurant’s kitchen, surrounded by the sights and smells of sweet and savory ingredients. The book is written almost as a collection of short stories, although I don’t think any chapter could stand on it’s own - each person’s story needs the frame of Lillian’s story in the prologue and epilogue, as well as the stories of the other characters. There is Antonia, the single kitchen decorator who misses her native Italy; Carl and Helen, the long-married couple whose love has endured much; Chloe, the clumsy waitress who is trying to come into her own; Ian, the young man who sees life as an experiment to be tried; Isabelle, a woman who is entering the winter of her life; Claire, the wife and mother of young children looking for something to call her own; and Tom, the widower still grieving the loss of his beloved. Lillian has an uncanny knack for knowing just what her students need. As each Monday’s class brings an essential ingredient to the group, relationships are forged, changed, and healed. This is a short book - around 240 pages - and I could have gobbled it up in one sitting, but instead I forced myself to savor it over a few days. I will be watching eagerly for Bauermeister’s next foray into fiction. 5 out of 5 stars

  8. 5 out of 5

    Connie

    A solid 3.5 enjoyable read. This was a comfort read for me. A cast of characters from all walks of life with very different experiences and at very different stages all come together once a week for cooking class. Of course, they learn so much more....about themselves, about each other and about how to look at and experience life. It was a quick and easy read, with a feel good ending. For me, the food was as much a character of this ensemble cast as the others. I would LOVE to find a A solid 3.5 enjoyable read. This was a comfort read for me. A cast of characters from all walks of life with very different experiences and at very different stages all come together once a week for cooking class. Of course, they learn so much more....about themselves, about each other and about how to look at and experience life. It was a quick and easy read, with a feel good ending. For me, the food was as much a character of this ensemble cast as the others. I would LOVE to find a class like this. I closed this book feeling like I had made a few friends and planning what new thing I could cook next! I believe there is a sequel to this....and I will read it just for the cooking tips/ideas if nothing else. I may need to wait a bit as I may have gained a couple pounds reading this one!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rory

    I've given 5-star ratings to a lot of books I've really liked. But "The School of Essential Ingredients" is on a totally different plane. This is a novel of pure love, toward food and toward life. I've never said this in any other review I've written either on here or in my movie reviews: This book will change your life, no matter if you simply read it straight through without much reaction. Scenes will creep into your memory at times you never expected. If you're not a foodie, you'll become a b I've given 5-star ratings to a lot of books I've really liked. But "The School of Essential Ingredients" is on a totally different plane. This is a novel of pure love, toward food and toward life. I've never said this in any other review I've written either on here or in my movie reviews: This book will change your life, no matter if you simply read it straight through without much reaction. Scenes will creep into your memory at times you never expected. If you're not a foodie, you'll become a bit of one, remembering the descriptions of all kinds of food here. This is one of the few novels that taps completely into why we read. What we hope for when we open a novel is all right here, and above all, enlightenment in many forms.

  10. 4 out of 5

    K8e

    This book was AMAZING!!!!! I was hungry while reading it, and hungry for more when I finished. Congrats to Erica for writing such an amazing first novel. I loved the how each chapter was a different characters point of view about their life and how they ended up in Lillian's cooking class. There were some of the best pieces of advice within the pages of this book. I think it really appeals to people who cook, or don't cook for that matter (like me) but now I want to really start learning how and This book was AMAZING!!!!! I was hungry while reading it, and hungry for more when I finished. Congrats to Erica for writing such an amazing first novel. I loved the how each chapter was a different characters point of view about their life and how they ended up in Lillian's cooking class. There were some of the best pieces of advice within the pages of this book. I think it really appeals to people who cook, or don't cook for that matter (like me) but now I want to really start learning how and experimenting in the kitchen!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tattered Cover Book Store

    This is a glorious book. It's about food as a touchstone and a means for memory,community, nurturing, healing, loving, seduction, sustenance, pleasure, joy, beginning, endings--life. It is the story of a cooking class that learns far more than culinary skills at the hands of a chef whose wisdom is not limited to food stuffs. The language is lush and decadent, rolling off the page and into your mind like a drug. I could taste, smell, see and feel everything as if I was indeed standing at the prep This is a glorious book. It's about food as a touchstone and a means for memory,community, nurturing, healing, loving, seduction, sustenance, pleasure, joy, beginning, endings--life. It is the story of a cooking class that learns far more than culinary skills at the hands of a chef whose wisdom is not limited to food stuffs. The language is lush and decadent, rolling off the page and into your mind like a drug. I could taste, smell, see and feel everything as if I was indeed standing at the prep table myself. This is Bauermeister's first novel, but the power and magic in her prose tells me that it is far from her last. Fans of Harris's Chocolat will be crazy about this book, but I would recommend it for foodies of any sort, and really just about anyone--this book casts a powerful spell that makes you see, feel and taste the world, even your memories, in a new, deep, consuming way. Jackie

  12. 5 out of 5

    K

    I have read way, way too many books like this. Several random individuals end up meeting regularly (in this case for a cooking class) and gradually bonding. Each character comes with his own set of traumas and in each chapter we meet a different one and learn his story, interspersed with the teacher's deep philosophical food musings as she demonstrates cake, turkey, or whatever (such pithy gems as, the flour is like the guy at the party who you don't realize is sexy until the end -- huh?). The t I have read way, way too many books like this. Several random individuals end up meeting regularly (in this case for a cooking class) and gradually bonding. Each character comes with his own set of traumas and in each chapter we meet a different one and learn his story, interspersed with the teacher's deep philosophical food musings as she demonstrates cake, turkey, or whatever (such pithy gems as, the flour is like the guy at the party who you don't realize is sexy until the end -- huh?). The teacher is clearly meant to be the almost magically insightful and prescient voice-of-wisdom character that every book like this must have. The characters and storylines are clicheed, a flaw which no amount of lyrical waxing about food can camouflage. Which, incidentally, was way over the top. Honestly, I like to cook at least as much as the next person and probably more than many. I even enjoy food writing sometimes. But when all is said and done it's just food, people. It's enjoyable in the moment at best; it won't solve your deepest problems.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joanna

    A cabin weekend read, recommended (sadly) by NPR. I ended up reading parts aloud to Mara and Abby while we all read by the lake this weekend, because the writing was so florid (and because a grieving husband makes a very creepy tribute to his dead wife, involving her ashes and a cake served to her mourning friends). The author made a rookie mistakes of writing from the perspectives of all of the characters while maintaining the florid, simile-laden language with every character, so you are force A cabin weekend read, recommended (sadly) by NPR. I ended up reading parts aloud to Mara and Abby while we all read by the lake this weekend, because the writing was so florid (and because a grieving husband makes a very creepy tribute to his dead wife, involving her ashes and a cake served to her mourning friends). The author made a rookie mistakes of writing from the perspectives of all of the characters while maintaining the florid, simile-laden language with every character, so you are forced to believe that everyone naturally has a orgasmic experience while holding a piece of raw garlic (sigh). Also, these are characters who are all-wise, all-knowing, all-patient and all-loving. The one good thing is that it did make me want to go cook something.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    I picked this because it was short and I was waiting for my other audiobook to get here so I didn’t want something that was going to take forever, in case the other book arrived within the week. I had no idea what it was really about except people coming together to cook and heal. That sounded nice. And it was nice. Actually, the story, itself, is quiet and lovely, centered on food and the individual lives of people in a winter cooking class. I liked the first several pages, the idea I picked this because it was short and I was waiting for my other audiobook to get here so I didn’t want something that was going to take forever, in case the other book arrived within the week. I had no idea what it was really about except people coming together to cook and heal. That sounded nice. And it was nice. Actually, the story, itself, is quiet and lovely, centered on food and the individual lives of people in a winter cooking class. I liked the first several pages, the idea of a little girl trying to un-withdraw her mother through cooking (she totally would not have been able to match food to book covers, though, because without reading the books, she really would not have known what they were about) But by the middle of the first disc, the analogies and similes were so prevalent and over-the-top that I started becoming frustrated and peevish. I love a good metaphor but they should be used wisely, they shouldn’t comprise the bulk of the text. Soon, I started getting frustrated with the lack of food knowledge sprinkled throughout the tale like gravel in pancake batter. For instance: Why did the chef put yolks in the white cake? That makes it a yellow cake. Is rosemary really considered dark green? It can be bright green and it's often got a silvery color to it, but dark green? I don't think so. Should olive oil be milky when it’s in a warm kitchen? No, it shouldn't. And then later, it’s golden green. What is going on with her olive oil? And then the focus on sensuality and its confluence with sexuality, like the two must happen together, like being sensual always leads to being sexual (pro-tip: It doesn't) Every character had incredibly heightened senses in some fashion and because the style of prose used to describe each one's slice of life was the same, they all wound up sounding like different versions of the same character, the same very sensual character who, for some reason, already knew how to cook or was already predisposed to understanding the complexities and magical qualities of food. This would have been a charming story were it not for the florid, grandiose way it was written. The words ruined everything.

  15. 5 out of 5

    miaaa

    It probably sounds a bit sad that I actually give this book to myself as a Christmas present lol but I sometimes tend to be quite melancholy around Christmas, First, I couldn't go home as every resources are reserved for my sister's wedding next February Second, not going home means I couldn't ask mum to cook all her special dishes for me oh especially those sour-sweet shrimps oh yummy Three, Christmas means baking cookies for the whole family oh yeah I can bake cookies hehe but maybe It probably sounds a bit sad that I actually give this book to myself as a Christmas present lol but I sometimes tend to be quite melancholy around Christmas, First, I couldn't go home as every resources are reserved for my sister's wedding next February Second, not going home means I couldn't ask mum to cook all her special dishes for me oh especially those sour-sweet shrimps oh yummy Three, Christmas means baking cookies for the whole family oh yeah I can bake cookies hehe but maybe this time I won't bake or get any cookies package from home Four, some people don't realise that like Claire, they are losing their identities, and simple things like cooking or get out from your comfort zone will renew the souls within. *** Hadiah Natal untuk diri sendiri. Jika ada yang bertanya kenapa tidak menghadiahkan diri sendiri sesuatu yang lebih bagus, hebat, mewah bla bla bla, jawabannya sederhana: kisah-kisah di buku ini memberikan kehangatan dan itulah semangat Natal.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Traci

    The School of Essential Ingredients is more than a cooking school. Chef and instructor Lillian proves it's a chance to rediscover your own life. The School of Essential Ingredients allows readers a peak into the life of each student and we watch with pleasure as their worlds realign and come together. While nothing earth-shattering really happnes here, the pacing is beautiful--it reads so quickly, but has that lovely, languid slowness that I crave on a January afternoon. This is a perfect read fIngredients The School of Essential Ingredients is more than a cooking school. Chef and instructor Lillian proves it's a chance to rediscover your own life. The School of Essential Ingredients allows readers a peak into the life of each student and we watch with pleasure as their worlds realign and come together. While nothing earth-shattering really happnes here, the pacing is beautiful--it reads so quickly, but has that lovely, languid slowness that I crave on a January afternoon. This is a perfect read for a snow-bound day at home.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Simply put--one of my absolute favorite reads OF ALL TIME--FOR EVER!! Just completed a third reading of this novel in preparation for a second reading of the sequel The Lost Art of Mixing; all for the book club I facilitate. we will speak with Ms. Bauermeister this Saturday as part of our discussion! cannot wait! I never cease to be amazed by this book--the author's deft usage of such visual sensual language with regard to food. Being a "foodie" myself, I am especially appreciative of her writin Simply put--one of my absolute favorite reads OF ALL TIME--FOR EVER!! Just completed a third reading of this novel in preparation for a second reading of the sequel The Lost Art of Mixing; all for the book club I facilitate. we will speak with Ms. Bauermeister this Saturday as part of our discussion! cannot wait! I never cease to be amazed by this book--the author's deft usage of such visual sensual language with regard to food. Being a "foodie" myself, I am especially appreciative of her writing skills; I smell, see, and sound as I read her words. Second time I've read this and I don't often re-read books. I loved it just as much this time as last. Bauermeister is such a master of lyricism and using language to activate the reader's senses and make him/her feel as if they're right there and participating, not just reading a book. I had forgotten just how poignant the ending of this book is! I was able to meet Erica Bauermeister in person April 17, 2014. She was just as gracious as I had imagined she would be. She signed all the books I asked her sign with nary a complaint! (I had purchased gift copies for my book club members and had them signed!) As she picked up my copy of this book, she held it in one hand, swirled the other hand over it, and said, "Ah, my baby..." :) And yes, it does seem to make my enjoyment of a book even more personal and pertinent when I have met the author and really like him/her! That's just natural, I think! :)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    Brilliant! So heartfelt and tender. This book is poetry. A work of art. The writing is fabulous, the story is told beautifully, and the author conveys such an artistic love and appreciation of food, it’s like magic. I don’t know how to describe it in words. This is a must-read for any foodie, chef, anyone who cooks, anyone who eats. Simply delicious. I would love if there were a companion book or website with recipes for the meals in the story, but then again, Lillian (the chef and cooking class Brilliant! So heartfelt and tender. This book is poetry. A work of art. The writing is fabulous, the story is told beautifully, and the author conveys such an artistic love and appreciation of food, it’s like magic. I don’t know how to describe it in words. This is a must-read for any foodie, chef, anyone who cooks, anyone who eats. Simply delicious. I would love if there were a companion book or website with recipes for the meals in the story, but then again, Lillian (the chef and cooking class teacher in the book) doesn’t believe in written recipes. The way the characters relate to one another is delightful–the bonds they form over the course of the class, so heartwarming. And the food! Before reading this, I viewed cooking as a chore. Now I feel it can be something more, something from the heart, a work of love and art. This book made my heart swell with warmth and joy. A solid five stars.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I just finished reading this book, which I must say I might never have picked up, except for the fact that I won it in a Goodreads Free Book contest. I'm so glad I did, because the book is very, very good. Essentially, it's the story of Lillian and the restaurant she owns where she holds cooking classes. However, that doesn't begin to tell the story. Lillian has a magical talent, which is that she can select food for individuals that helps them remember critical events in their lives in a positi I just finished reading this book, which I must say I might never have picked up, except for the fact that I won it in a Goodreads Free Book contest. I'm so glad I did, because the book is very, very good. Essentially, it's the story of Lillian and the restaurant she owns where she holds cooking classes. However, that doesn't begin to tell the story. Lillian has a magical talent, which is that she can select food for individuals that helps them remember critical events in their lives in a positive way, and heals whatever damage might have happened. Each character's back story is revealed with movement between their past life and the current recipe being prepared by the class. You have to read the book to see how this plays out for each of the people in Lillian's current class. Let's just say "essential ingredients" aren't just about the food. It will make you cry and it will make you laugh, and if you're like me, it will make you slowly prepare a favorite meal from your own past, and while cooking, bring up all of the memories associated with it. The only detracting piece of this book for me is stylistic. Absent Bauermeister's penchant for similies that didn't always work for me, and there were quite a lot of them, I might have given this book 4 stars. These seemed especially evident in the earlier chapters, and faded as I kept reading. I was very glad I hadn't set it aside because of this quirk. It was well worth the time--in fact, I stayed up very late one night to finish it, and was sorry to see it end.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca McKinnon

    One of the best parts of this book turned out to be the thing I was a little wary of before starting it: every chapter is from a different character's viewpoint. I'm a people-watcher. I love to guess where people are going and why. This book takes that idea and actually gives you the answers. We get a glimpse into all these people's lives. I was surprised how much I liked the story. It's a very quick read--I just got the copy yesterday afternoon and I'm already done. The descriptions, One of the best parts of this book turned out to be the thing I was a little wary of before starting it: every chapter is from a different character's viewpoint. I'm a people-watcher. I love to guess where people are going and why. This book takes that idea and actually gives you the answers. We get a glimpse into all these people's lives. I was surprised how much I liked the story. It's a very quick read--I just got the copy yesterday afternoon and I'm already done. The descriptions, especially of the food, were wonderful.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    If you appreciate the concept of the Slow Food Movement and cooking without recipes you'll love this book. Definitely one of my all time favorites. A great weave of food and characters. I loved putting the book down and climbing out of bed to zest some orange peel in a cup of fresh hot chocolate.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nicole (TheBookWormDrinketh)

    Lillian loved to watch her students at this moment – they were elements that would become more complex and intriguing as they mixed with one another, but at the beginning, placed in relief by their unfamiliar surroundings, their essence was clear. A young man reaching out to touch the shoulder of the still younger woman next to him – “What’s your name?” – as her hand dropped to the stainless-steel counter and traced its smooth surface. Another woman standing alone, her mind still lingering with- Lillian loved to watch her students at this moment – they were elements that would become more complex and intriguing as they mixed with one another, but at the beginning, placed in relief by their unfamiliar surroundings, their essence was clear. A young man reaching out to touch the shoulder of the still younger woman next to him – “What’s your name?” – as her hand dropped to the stainless-steel counter and traced its smooth surface. Another woman standing alone, her mind still lingering with- a child? a lover? Every once in a while there was a couple, in love or ruins. Lillian’s students arrived in a variety of motivations, some drawn by a yearning as yet unmet to hear murmured culinary compliments, others who had come to find a cook rather than become one. A few participants had no desire for lessons at all, arriving with gift certificates in hand as if on a forced march to certain failure; they knew their cakes would always be flat, their cream sauces filled with small, disconcerting pockets of flour, like bills in your mailbox when you had hoped for a love letter. And then there were those students who seemingly had no choice, who could no more stay out of the kitchen than a kleptomaniac could keep her hands in her pockets. The came early, stayed late, fantasized about leaving their corporate jobs and becoming chefs with an exhilarating mixture of guilt and pleasure. If Lillian’s soul sought out this last group, it was only to be expected, but in truth, she found them all fascinating. Lillian knew that whatever their reasons for coming, at some moment in the course of the class each one’s eyes would widen with joy or tears or resolution – it always happened. The timing and the reason would be different for each, and that’s where the fascination lay. No two spices work the same.” This is a quote that I found that I think best describes Lillian. She may be the main protagonist of the story. With a mother who raised her with her head in the books, “In this new life, Lillian’ s mother’s face became a series of book covers, held in place where eyes, nose, or mouth might normally appear. Lillian soon learned that book covers could forecast moods much like facial expressions, for Lillian’s mother swam deeply into the books she read, until the personality of the protagonist surrounded her like a perfume applied by an indiscriminate hand. Lillian was never sure who would greet her at the breakfast table, no matter that the bathroom, the hair, the feet were always the same. It was like having a madician for a mother, although Lillian always suspected that the magicians she saw at birthday parties went home a d turned back to portly men with three children and grass that needed mowing. Lillian’s mother comply finished one book and turned to the next. “ And, possibly because of this, she goes through the book almost like she’s at the zoo watching an exhibit. Okay, that sounds bad… It’s like she is making a souflee. She puts all of the ingredients together but knows that after that point she can only put it in the oven and wait because, if she opens the door too early or keeps checking on it, she’s just going to ruin it. It’ll come together on its own, in its own time. This is how she treats people. Get them in a room together and things will happen as they happen. All of these strangers have their own different trials in life and yet they are brought together by the binding forces of the universal language of food. They may have come to the class initially to simply learn how to cook, but they may wind up leaving with something far more nourishing. Speaking of the language of food. This is one of the things that I love most about this book. Erica has such a beautiful way with words. Her phasing had me tantalized and hungry for more…. and hungry for food! “The polenta was a cauldron of summer, vibrantly gold against the black of the pot. Carl was stirring with a long-handled wooden spoon with a hole in the center while Tom dropped in small bits of cheese that left white comet trails as they melted into the moving yellow mass.” “She gently tossed the garlic. It landed in the bowl created by his palms, its outer layers crackling like a secret, the weight both heavier and lighter than he had anticipated.” Each chapter focuses on the story of a different character in the class, slowly unwrapping their lives and circumstances like the secret that garlic held. Each story different, and yet the same. Characters who may not have lost the same things and yet the loss of memories and the loss of a loved one can still be the sort that brings two people together, or the fact that you are trying to find yourself as a child growing to adulthood doesn’t mean that you can’t connect with the mother trying to find her identity out side of being a mother. I think Charlie says it best, “We’re all ingredients, Tom. What matters is the grace with which you cook the meal.”

  23. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    Lillian has discovered that the art of preparing fine foods can heal many of the soul's wounds. Personal experience tells her so. As students filter into the cooking school that she holds in her restaurant every Monday night, she begins to teach them the secrets of culinary excellence, tailoring the meals to each particular person's unspoken need. As raw ingredients are transformed into luscious feasts, each person in the class is also changed. From the frazzled housewife to the couple with a st Lillian has discovered that the art of preparing fine foods can heal many of the soul's wounds. Personal experience tells her so. As students filter into the cooking school that she holds in her restaurant every Monday night, she begins to teach them the secrets of culinary excellence, tailoring the meals to each particular person's unspoken need. As raw ingredients are transformed into luscious feasts, each person in the class is also changed. From the frazzled housewife to the couple with a stormy past, each person begins to realize that the lessons taught in Lillian's kitchen have far greater reach than the table. Carrying the secrets of the kitchen back into their own lives, the students start to experience greater understanding and healing in their own lives and begin to see the class as a refuge, where the compassion of one chef and the support of each other coalesce in unexpected and curative ways. As a lover of food literature, I have to say this book was divine. I found the food descriptions to be wonderfully luscious and intriguing, and the human element of the story was great as well. The chapters, which focused in turn on each of the students, were crafted very compellingly because they seemed to be written in various styles. They were not so different as to be jarring, but the writing of each subject was done in a unique and singular way. I took this as a great sign of the author's versatility. She was able to make each character's chapter their own by making small changes in the writing technique. I also loved the depth of emotion in this story. The author showed great empathy and consideration for her characters and was able to enrich the story with great emotional control. I loved the tenderness and humility of her characters. These were thoughtful and deep people who were able to express intrinsic emotions in proportion tho their circumstances. The emotional scenes in this book were written with great acuity and depth, and ranged from a light playfulness to a profound grief. I think the author used each blank canvas of character in magnetic and engaging ways that added substantial dimension to the book. Her characters weren't stereotypical knock-offs, they seemed like authentic and genuine people, like people you know, people you love. This book could have easily been overblown with drama, but the author was able to form her narrative and characters with a wonderful humility and temperance. I found Lillian's character to be a marvel. She was consistently loving and calm towards all her students, showing by example the healing and restorative nature of life through food. I found Lillian to be a wonderfully frank and disarming person. Whenever she was on the page I knew that something great was about to be uncovered. I loved the way she enabled her students to make the most of their lessons, and their lives, both praising and teaching at the same time. She was a wonderfully competent character, both believable and charming. The story was extremely moving as well. It was both perceptive and profound, especially the chapters involving Tom, the man hiding a secret heartbreak. Although I loved Lillian, I think it was Tom and his story that moved me the most. I cried while reading Tom's story, sharing his anguish and despair with a heavy heart. And have I mentioned the food? The food aspects of the story were fascinating and delectable. Many times throughout this book I read and reread the passages relating to the food. Her descriptions of the smells and look of the foods being prepared were like poetry, lyrical and passionate in a way I didn't expect, yet fully appreciated. I thought it was an exceptional additional benefit that almost all the food sections were written in the form of instructions, not recipes per se, but in a way that melded the story with bits of guidance that would make it easy for the reader to put together any of the featured dishes in the book. This book was a delight on multiple levels. It was a combination of the tenacity of the human spirit and an ambrosial documentary of fine cuisine. I would have gladly read another hundred pages of this novel, had it only been written! This is not to say that the story ended unsatisfactorily, because it certainly did not. I just wanted more of this magnificent and savory tale. I thought the author did a wonderful job in both the idea and the execution. It was a quiet and uplifting tale full of scrumptious spreads. I would like to read this one again, just for the food this time. Highly recommended for foodies and those who are looking for a rich and satisfying novel.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ash

    I picked this book just because I wanted to read something different. I was bored of reading similar kinds of books. This was a genre that I had not explored so I thought why not. I ordered Chocolat and this book, both based on cooking and food just to see if I will like the genre. Both books were good but not mind blowing. They were not so good that I would want to read more books in this genre. The writing and the language is beautiful. Some quotes were good like - "He knew that not all sticks in a nest are straight." "Every meal you estraight.""Every- I picked this book just because I wanted to read something different. I was bored of reading similar kinds of books. This was a genre that I had not explored so I thought why not. I ordered Chocolat and this book, both based on cooking and food just to see if I will like the genre. Both books were good but not mind blowing. They were not so good that I would want to read more books in this genre. The writing and the language is beautiful. Some quotes were good like - "He knew that not all sticks in a nest are straight." "Every meal you eat, you eat time." "One of the essential lessons in cooking is how extraordinary the simplest foods can be when they are prepared with care and the freshest ingredients" "Life is beautiful. Some people just remind you of that more than others." "It makes everything a possibility, if you don't know the answer." I had different kind of expectations from this book, considering it is a story about a cooking class. I thought it would deal more with the chemistry of students and the teacher in the cooking class. I also thought it might be a fun read. But the book was pretty serious and most part of the book dealt with story outside the cooking class. There are 8 people who attend the cooking class and the book kind of deals with the life and problems faced by these people. I don't know in what way the cooking class helped them resolve their personal issues. Anyway, it is a light read and some stories are pretty good too. I liked stories of Antonia, Chloe and Helen. So I am glad I picked this book. It also reminded me of the two cooking classes that hubby and I took, just for fun. One was salads and veggie class and the other was a pasta class. Only one woman had come with her husband in one of the classes and in the other, a woman brought her son along with her. Mostly women came to the class and they were all friendly. We chit chatted with a few people with whom we shared our table. We even cooked with few people and it was fun. Cooking classes can actually be fun. Everything from students washing their hands at the sink to cooking together on a dish and then eating what they cooked, reminded me of our classes. When I read about Carl and Helen, it reminded me of us. :) You could learn everything about a couple just watching the kitchen choreography as they prepared dinner. I think I agree as we have lots of fun when husband and I cook together. I am in love with the book cover. The prettiest cover I have seen - I found recipes at the author's website - http://www.ericabauermeister.com/recipes

  25. 4 out of 5

    Donura

    Lillian has loved cooking since she was a young girl. As she put it, “she thought smells were for her what the printed words were for others, something alive that grew and changed. She also knew that many people did not comprehend the language of the smells that she did.” She became one of the lucky few who are able to follow their passion and not only cook for others to enjoy but to teach others to see, and smell and touch and taste what different foods have to offer. Ms. Lillian has loved cooking since she was a young girl. As she put it, “she thought smells were for her what the printed words were for others, something alive that grew and changed. She also knew that many people did not comprehend the language of the smells that she did.” She became one of the lucky few who are able to follow their passion and not only cook for others to enjoy but to teach others to see, and smell and touch and taste what different foods have to offer. Ms. Bauermeister serves us up a cast of characters that are different as night and day and yet they come together to learn to cook from Lillian. Well maybe that isn’t exactly right. They come together in a cooking class but we soon learn that they are each are receiving something different than cooking lessons from Lillian. Some are searching for love lost, while others are trying to lose the feelings of love, and still others are adjusting to the changes that aging bring about. Early on in the story, the one thing that stood out for me was how much I was able to get into the characters. It was more than just reminiscent of two other wonderful books that are high on my list of all time favorites to read and re-read. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, and Light Years by James Salter. The characters were complex with deep emotions that you would want to have in your life. For anyone who likes to cook or enjoys the art of eating, or both, this is a wonderful to book to savor. You will be left wanting more when it over.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sharmeela

    Everything about this book was just okay to me. I found it to be very boring, predictable, all loose ends neatly tied by the finish. The descriptions of the food sounded delectable, but other than that all the story lines were pretty bland. Each student in Lilian's cooking class was conveniently broken in some two-dimensional way and under the spell of food and Lilian (doing her best fairy-godmother imitation) waving her magic wand, everything was miraculously right in the world again. Not Everything about this book was just okay to me. I found it to be very boring, predictable, all loose ends neatly tied by the finish. The descriptions of the food sounded delectable, but other than that all the story lines were pretty bland. Each student in Lilian's cooking class was conveniently broken in some two-dimensional way and under the spell of food and Lilian (doing her best fairy-godmother imitation) waving her magic wand, everything was miraculously right in the world again. Not only were the situations completely generic, but the outcomes were extremely implausible. What young girl would leave her boyfriend and move in with a senile old woman she'd only met a handful of times?? What restaurant owner would take a chance hiring a clumsy kid as a server in her fancy restaurant?? How would a cooking class that takes place once a month (maybe 8 or 9 times total) make these 9 disconnected people into a dysfunctional family?? It just didn't add up. That being said, it was a very easy, painless read that took basically no effort on my part. The plot had a nice idea, but the fact that the execution lacked any sort of imagination and follow-through, made it completely forgettable. Its sort of like making cookies from scratch vs. buying a pre-made mix: the extra effort taken by the former makes the end result taste that much sweeter. I guess what I'm trying to say is that making the reader work a little (and not just making everything so straight-forward and simple), makes the experience much more worthwhile.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    I was so impressed by The School of Essential Ingredients. Erica Bauermeister shows equal passion for the English language and food by painting beautiful pictures of food through creative and engaging language. The School of Essential Ingredients is a collection of short stories weaved around a Monday night cooking class. Each story focuses on a cooking class student and their life delving deep into their past or present situation. Erica Bauermeister manages to evoke a wide range of emotions. The students find they learn some of life's most I was so impressed by The School of Essential Ingredients. Erica Bauermeister shows equal passion for the English language and food by painting beautiful pictures of food through creative and engaging language. The School of Essential Ingredients is a collection of short stories weaved around a Monday night cooking class. Each story focuses on a cooking class student and their life delving deep into their past or present situation. Erica Bauermeister manages to evoke a wide range of emotions. The students find they learn some of life's most important messages through the medium of food. The School of Essential Ingredients is delightfully charming even through stories of heartbreak.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer (JC-S)

    ‘What matters is the grace with which you cook the meal.’ On Monday nights, over a period of weeks, Lillian gives cooking lessons to small groups. Lillian is a renowned chef who has her own restaurant, and her classes are popular. As the story opens, a new class is starting and we meet the eight students as they meet each other. Over the course of the book, each chapter combines the preparation of a meal with the story of one of the characters. Each of the characters brings their own ‘What matters is the grace with which you cook the meal.’ On Monday nights, over a period of weeks, Lillian gives cooking lessons to small groups. Lillian is a renowned chef who has her own restaurant, and her classes are popular. As the story opens, a new class is starting and we meet the eight students as they meet each other. Over the course of the book, each chapter combines the preparation of a meal with the story of one of the characters. Each of the characters brings their own struggles, disappointments and joys to the kitchen. Each of the students is transformed by their learning and, as they learn to appreciate the aromas, flavours and textures of what they are preparing, they each learn quite a lot about themselves. I enjoyed this novel. The character sketches and the food preparation combine in a delightful way. Sometimes the character’s stories are connected and seem complete, sometimes they are not. Some of the stories hint at a hopeful future, others are less clear. Each of the stories is interesting, each of the characters vividly drawn. And yes, cooking is also thinking about other people. Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mark Oshiro

    I was commissioned to read the first chapter of this book for Mark Reads, and I was floored by the beautiful prose and the tale of the importance of food to our own cultures. So, armed with my Kindle while in Europe, I read this entire book in a single sitting on the train to Amsterdam. It. Is. Astounding. Organized as tales surrounding the participants of a Monday night cooking class, think of it less as a serialized novel and more as a series of vignettes that tie in each characters' life and I was commissioned to read the first chapter of this book for Mark Reads, and I was floored by the beautiful prose and the tale of the importance of food to our own cultures. So, armed with my Kindle while in Europe, I read this entire book in a single sitting on the train to Amsterdam. It. Is. Astounding. Organized as tales surrounding the participants of a Monday night cooking class, think of it less as a serialized novel and more as a series of vignettes that tie in each characters' life and background into that week's lesson. It reminded me of two things: 1) The more brilliant flashback sequences on LOST. You know, when a person's backstory perfectly syncs up with the present in a way to explain their character motivations... that kind of symmetry. 2) The House on Mango Street, which I then immediately re-read because I had to. Heartbreaking, uplifting, and full of so many incredible food descriptions that you'll end up super hungry while reading it, this is a quick read that's totally worth your time.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

    This book is just not "a cup of my tea," to borrow a Korean student's phrase. It's a homey, safe book, full of food imagery, but also full of cliched characters and an overwhelming number of similes and metaphors. It feels like it's written to appeal to a book club of older, conservative readers. Compared to Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate, it's fluffy and insubstantial. Read for book group, February 2016.

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