Review: The School of Essential Ingredients

The School of Essential Ingredients

The School of Essential Ingredients
By Erica Bauermeister
(Berkley Trade, Paperback, 9780425232095, January 2010, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

The School of Essential Ingredients  is the panacea for all that ails you.

The Rest of It:

What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? Well, coming from a person who prefers heavier fiction over cozy reads, I can tell you that I would not have picked it up on my own, had it not been for the wonderful reviews its received. Additionally, I heard Bauermeister speak at a local bookstore and I liked HER. Does that ever happen to you? You like the author as a person, so then you pick up his/her book? I admired the easy, effortless way she read and her characters seemed to have heart.

In School, Lillian owns a restaurant. A lovely little thing, with cozy, intimate spaces that open to a gorgeous garden. Each Monday, once a month, she teaches a cooking class. The participants change regularly, but each group brings with them, memories of lost loves, heartache, the awkwardness of a first kiss, the warm scent of a freshly washed baby. As the students learn the importance of experiencing their meals and not just cooking them, the reader is treated to little bit of history on each participant.

There are many, wonderful characters but I identified the most with Claire. A mother of two and happily married, Claire lost a little piece of herself when she had her first child. That page and a half where she talks about her loss and what she gained in return, nearly brought tears to my eyes. I think a lot of women have probably felt that way at one point. I know I did. That moment where you realize that you are now responsible for this other person, and that you will never, ever be the same. It’s wonderful yet also a little bit sad.

Ultimately,  this is a feel-good book. It’s warm and inviting and incredibly satisfying. At one point, it seemed almost too good to be true but I took my critical hat off and just enjoyed it for what it was. If you read this book, and I suggest that you do, you MUST have food on hand. After finishing the book, I spent an entire weekend cooking and savoring delicious meals.  This book is so popular that I’m surprised it wasn’t followed up with a cookbook. Or, some sort of cooking retreat. I’d be the first in line to reserve my spot.

To the more serious readers, I dare you to read this book and not feel good about it afterward.

Source: Borrowed

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25 Responses

  1. I loved your thoughts about this…I read this so long ago that I vaguely remember Claire…but I loved this book.

  2. The audio version was excellent as well. It’s so true what you said about the bittersweet feelings we have when we have a child.

  3. I remember when this book first made its rounds and I had every intention of reading it….As someone who loves cooking, especially for my loved ones, I think its time I pick it up! Sometimes a cozy book is just what we need, even if we don’t know it. ;)

  4. I love your thoughts about this too, and I really love Bauermeister. In the case of both her books, they are choices I wouldn’t ordinarily have made, but she made both of them worthwhile!

  5. P.S. I do have the recipe for Carl and Helen’s cake. If you want it, let me know and I’ll send it to you. It is, however, full of gluten, so I’m guessing you wont’ be asking for it any time soon!

  6. I loved this book as well, and really like that it was like a whole little handful of stories all gathered together and presented in relation to the cooking school. I am envious that you got a chance to see her in person! It must have been great! I also loved her second book, which I would recommend to you. It was a really thoughtful piece of fiction. Wonderful review today!

  7. What a great review. I have this and somehow have not read it yet.

  8. OK, Ti, you made me want to head to the kitchen. LOL Seriously, I have a copy of this book and fully intend to get to it soon. I loved JOY FOR BEGINNERS, her other book. I knew after I read it that another “favorite” author would be added to my list. Thanks for a great review!

    • I love to cook but I rarely have to time to plan a meal. The Hub thought I was crazy when I cooked one dish after another but we’ve been enjoying them all week. Plan to read it over a weekend while cooking and sipping fine wine.

  9. “… the panacea for all that ails you.”

    That says it all! The audio version was wonderful, too.

  10. I read it a couple of years ago and now, reading your thoughts about it, I’m tempted to reread it. I really liked it and I’m glad you did as well.

  11. Like Mary I’m tempted to read it again after reading your thoughts. I really liked this book. It’s one of my favorites of all time. I know what you mean about reading an author’s book because you liked them. That has happened to me as well.

  12. I read this a few years ago and adored everything about it – the language, the story, and the characters were all excellent.

  13. A worthwhile dare, and one that I’d like to put some money on. Impossible not to love this book, even if you are not a foodie. I will add that the audio is SUBLIME. I was just floating around in a dream state while listening. It was one of my favorite audios of the year when I listened to it.

    • I may pick up the audio before the year ends. It would be wonderful to listen to around the holidays. You know, with all that cooking. Heck! I could listen WHILE cooking the turkey!

  14. I absolutely loved this book. Bauermeister’s descriptions made my mouth water!

  15. Bauermeister has a blurb on Kathleen Flinn’s upcoming book THE KITCHEN COUNTER COOKING SCHOOL. I reviewed her Flinn’s first book last night. They are both just wonderful. Have been looking at this one by Bauermeister for some time. Now, I must pick it up.

  16. I’ve been wanting to read this one since it first was released in hardcover but just haven’t been able to yet. It’s good to hear that you just let yourself kick back and enjoy the story! I know that can be hard to do sometimes!

  17. The worst would be if you loved the author and didn’t like the book. Glad that wasn’t the case. And I know what you mean about sometimes just having to accept a book for what it is.

  18. I’ve definitely picked up books before just because I liked the author, though of course that doesn’t always work out so well! I often lean toward “heavier fiction” as well, but you’ve sold me on this one. After all the great reviews I’ve read about Bauermeister’s newer novel, too, I’m pretty sure I have to try her soon!

  19. i didn’t recognize this book with the new paperback cover! very snazzy but i might prefer the hb cover. as for liking authors, i know exactly where you’re coming from. :)

  20. [...] The Lost Art of Mixing, Bauermeister returns to Lillian’s restaurant, first featured in The School of Essential Ingredients. Lillian’s restaurant is known for bringing people together. It’s a place to rediscover [...]

  21. [...] Ian McEwan 53. After the Quake: Stories by Haruki Murakami 54. Annabel by Kathleen Winter 55. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister 56. Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez 57. Strangers by Anita Brookner [...]

  22. [...] Ian McEwan 53. After the Quake: Stories by Haruki Murakami 54. Annabel by Kathleen Winter 55. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister 56. Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez 57. Strangers by Anita Brookner [...]

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