Every now and then I stumble over a novel that reminds me that English is a rich, evocative and beautiful language. The School of Essential Ingredients did just that.
This is a simple story driven by a chapter devoted to each of the Cooking School's students. Each has arrived at the school for very different reasons which are slowly revealed. The revelations are cleverly interspersed with philosophy and recipes.
I appreciated the character development and while the plot is not thrilling it is well crafted and inexorably pulls you through the book. The appeal of this book stays with you long after you have read the last word.
Bauermeister's descriptions of food are -- well -- sensual. Not to mention mouth watering and visual. After a couple of chapters I wanted to get into the kitchen and start cooking. The only problem was that I would have to put down the book to do that. So I kept reading; stomach growling.
The food is one thing; the writing style is something else again. This prose is close to poetry as Bauermeister draws parallels between food and words. She also somehow transforms words into visceral objects that sing and dance through your brain.
This may be Bauermeister's first book, but I sincerely hope it won't be her last! I finished the book and wanted more. Maybe book two about the next class. Which sounds fine, but I found I didn't want to say goodbye to these characters either.
At the risk of spewing "purple prose" I will just state that her lush prose make a literary feast. . . Seriously, this is a book to savor.
The publisher says:
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 student's 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.