Saturday, June 27, 2009

The School of Essential Ingredients - Erica Bauermeister

Summary: "The first question people always ask me is what are the essential ingredients." Lillian paused and smiled. "I might as well tell you, there isn't a list and I've never had one. Nor do I hand out recipes. All I can say is that you will learn what you need to."
Once a month on Monday night, eight students gather in Lillian's restaurant for a cooking class. Among them is Claire, a young woman coming to terms with her new identity as a mother; Tom, a lawyer whose life has been overturned by loss; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer adapting to life in America; and Carl and Helen, a long-married couple whose union contains surprises the rest of the class would never suspect.
The students have come to learn the art behind Lillian's soulful dishes, but it soon becomes clear that each seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. One by one they are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of what they create, including a white-on-white cake that prompts wistful reflection on the sweet fragility of love, and a garlic and red sauce that seems to spark one romance but end another. Over time, the paths of the students mingle and intertwine and the essence of Lillian's cooking expands beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of their lives, with results that are often unexpected, and always delicious. (summary from the book jacket -- photo from )
My review: I adore Food Lit. I simply cannot resist diving into a mountain of words and descriptions that make my mouth water. Nothing in this world inspires me to cook (or rather more likely, eat) like a food book well-written and I have truly feasted the last couple of days.
The School of Essential Ingredients is an exquisite blend of short stories surrounding an unusual cooking class and its participants. I was immediately drawn in by the dazzling combination of almost-recipes, tantalizing aromas, and flavors that infused the pages of this book. Each chapter tells the story of a different student, offering a brief glimpse into their lives and the effect the cooking class has had on them. I actually wanted to linger, taking small bites of the story instead of just devouring it in one big gulp. So I read, savored, till the pages seemed drenched with the smell of garlic and oregano, and I found, at the very end that I still wasn’t ready to leave. I was full, but wanted even more.
For you foodies out there I’ll give you a little heads up, this book has no recipes (not written down anyway) but I found, as it wove its way along that I didn’t care in the slightest. One of the messages of this book was how food can be such an integral part of the human experience and how we should revel in it and listen to what it tells us about ourselves. I adored every inch of it and highly recommend it as a source of inspiration if you are ever lacking in imagination or motivation in the kitchen.
If you'd like, you can read an excerpt here.
My rating: 5 Stars. I could eat this book—I mean, full on consume it.
For the sensitive reader, there were some brief moments of sensuality, but nothing graphic.
Sum it up: An intensely delicious feast. Be sure to dine slowly.


MindySue said...

K - in hindsight...i hate this review. i think i'm going to have to go back and edit it because it just doesn't describe how connected you become to the characters and how smooth the story moves. it's amazing and I can't credit it properly. grrr.

Kim R. said...

Your so funny..... I thought the review was great!!!!

MindySue said...

I changed it anyway. ;)

treen said...

You've convinced me! I haven't read any "food lit" until I recently picked up "Julie and Julia" about the girl who cooked everything in Julia Child's "The art of French cooking" in one year. I'm barely into it and it's a disappointment - it's so crude. Her use of profanity goes beyond the occasional point for emphasis and into gratuitous. Her comparing food to sex is also beyond being sensual into being crass.

All that to say, hooray for good food lit! I didn't know where to find any! I'll be on the lookout for this one!

MindySue said...

i still hate this review. grr.


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