The School of Essential Ingredients – Erica Bauermeister

Title: The School of Essential Ingredients
Author: Erica Bauermeister
ISBN: 0399155430
Pages: 256
Release Date: January 22, 2009
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

From the dust jacket:

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.

If you’ve traveled around the book blogosphere lately, you have probably heard about Erica Bauermeister’s The School of Essential Ingredients. I’ve read rave review after rave review of this book, to the point where I approached it with some trepidation. What if my expectations were too high? Would the book disappoint me? I honestly wasn’t really sure what to think when I opened the book and turned to the first page.

I have to say, The School of Essential Ingredients deserves every bit of praise that it has been getting. Were my expectations too high? Maybe. But that doesn’t change the fact that the novel is gorgeously written. Bauermeister’s writing style is beautiful; the words are lush and wrap around you like a cozy blanket. Her prose leaves the reader feeling warm inside.

The book is awash with details that will definitely arouse the reader’s senses. Don’t read this book when you are hungry; it will probably be unbearable. As it was, I found myself craving the dishes they were making. It definitely left me with a new appreciation for the power of food and will probably inspire people to cook more and to enroll in a cooking class, though I don’t think anyone will find a class quite like Lillian’s.

The characters were also an integral part of The School of Essential Ingredients and they were all written very well. Each had their own story, their own hurts from which to heal. One would think that a book that featured this many characters would be a heavy tome. But The School of Essential Ingredients is a slip of a book; I don’t know how Bauermeister managed to develop so many characters in so few pages, but she accomplished the task admirably. Erica Bauermeister seems to have the same magic with words as Lillian, the main character, has with food.

I definitely would not miss The School of Essential Ingredients. The book is so well written and enjoyable that it can’t possibly disappoint. The expectations are high for this book, yes, but it deserves all the praise that has been heaped upon it.


  1. I’m really looking forward to reading this. Haven’t read a negative review!

  2. I loved this book and hated for it to end.

  3. “Gorgeously written” indeed…glad you loved this as much as I did. It will definitely make my best-of-the-year list…

  4. I’ve never heard of this one, but it sounds right up my alley! 🙂 Thanks for the great review, I’m definitely going to look for it!

    And just as a random aside, does it seem like an enormous amount of literary characters have been named “Claire” lately? Or its British varient, “Clare.” I like the name, but it seems strange!

  5. Yay, I’m glad you liked it to. It really is such a lovely book.

  6. I’m thinking of trying this one on audio. Either way, I’ll be posting a review. Glad to know that it lives up to the all the praise.

  7. I can’t wait to read this one! I put it on hold at my library and am just waiting for it to come in…not very patiently might I add!

  8. I think I might have to break down and buy this one!

  9. Well said! It was such a good book!

  10. So glad you enjoy it. I loved this book, and I, too, was surprised the author said so much without saying much at all.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  11. I am so glad you enjoyed this one. I have been wanting to read it, and now I think I may HAVE to. I am on my way up to Powell’s next weekend, so I may have to see if they have any copies for me. Thanks for sharing, and I am glad you liked it.

  12. I’m so glad you liked the book Swapna. That is one book I wish would have been many more pages!

  13. I have this book on my TBR pile and I hope to start it soon.. like you, i’ve been reading soo many rave reviews for this book!

  14. Yeah, this book was great 😀 I really enjoyed the heck out of it.

    Fashionista Piranha

  15. Really well done review. I can’t wait to read this. I do have it, just haven’t had time yet.
    Thanks, Wisteria

  16. Oh I loved this book so very much.
    Have you read “Comfort Food,” by Kate Jacobs? It’s in a similar vein.

  17. Gosh, what a wonderful review. If only I had time to read all the books I’d like. 😉

  18. Gosh, what a wonderful review. If only I had time to read all the books I’d like. 😉

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