Monday, February 9, 2009

The School of Essential Ingredients

I like books. I like food. So when Mother Talk put out a call for reviewers for a book called The School of Essential Ingredients, and described it as being about a cooking class, I had to sign up, because, well, a fiction book about food? My kind of book.

Lillian's the chef at a small restaurant, and on the first Monday of every month, she teaches a cooking class. It sounds like a thoroughly enjoyable, and completely idiosyncratic cooking class - ranging from white cake with white icing, to homemade tortillas, to a complete Thanksgiving dinner. It's episodic, each chapter acting almost like a short story focused on one of the students. Bit by bit, we get to know the teacher and the eight members of the class, and they all get to know one another. We dip into their memories, of taste, of love, of life, of sadness. Characters pair off in various ways - as incipient lovers, as roommates, as apprentices.

And all the while, Erica Bauermeister writes of food with sensuousness and detail - you taste the butter on the tortilla, you feel the crabs killed alive in the first class, you smell the garlic "scent soaked deep into her skin". I flipped to the back of the book at one point, wondering if there were going to be recipes. There aren't, which is as it should be; recipes in a book like this would be far too tangible, much too concrete for the seductive tale that Bauermeister spins.
She picked up the paper Lillian had given them and laughed. "Now, this would be Lillian's idea of a recipe."

On the paper was written: "Take ingredients on the prep table, chop as need be. Butterfly turkey and flavor inside and out, as you like. Make a package. Send it."
As much as anything, Lillian is teaching her students to live, to love, to trust their own instincts.

The book hasn't much through story or a climactic event. But that's fine: when I finished, I almost wanted to start all over again, so I could pay better attention to the weaving of the spider web betwixt the characters.


Janet said...

You're the second person on my blogroll to review this book and now I really want to read it LOL!

menopausalmusing said...

You have so SOLD that book to me.

Debbie said...

I saw that book reviewed in BookPage and thought it looked interesting. After this, I will definitely read it.

Vodka Mom said...


if it involves food, I'm all over it. Unfortunately.

Woman in a Window said...

Cool. I like approaching life as though it's just a series of meals. Yummy, mouth watering, hip flattering meals.