Rated Reads

The School of Essential Ingredients

by Erica Bauermeister

Rated: Mild

The food book — whether it be a novel or a memoir (or whatever other category that food books fall into) — can be a truly wonderful experience. If you get a writer who is evocative enough, descriptive enough, then you can be transported to another place, another time, and delight in the feast for the senses. It’s the best kind of escapism, and when you combine the essence of food with a mystical magical power, there is the possibility of truly getting carried away.

Which is why, I think, I had high hopes for this one. The cover is gorgeous, the title inviting. The story, simple enough to let the food shine. Lillian is a master chef who never works with recipes, preferring instead to find her own combinations, unique to the day, the person, the mood she wants to evoke. She runs a cooking school, teaching these essential principles: smell, savor, enjoy. Each chapter is a profile of a different student in the session, which is both a plus and a minus. Plus, because we get to know each person individually, with histories and reactions to the different food. Minus, because it detracts from an overarching story. The book ends up more like a series of connected short stories, and because of that, I felt unfulfilled when the story was over. It is kind of like The Jane Austen Book Club in that way, except that book handled the balance between the individual stories and an overarching plot better. I did come to like some of the characters — the new mother Claire, the Italian Antonia, the geeky Ian — but it seems that once their stories are done, Bauermeister doesn’t quite know what to do with them, and pushes them out of the picture.

But, all that could be forgiven if the food was worth it. And sometimes it is. Sometimes, like in the spaghetti chapter, I could almost smell the food, longing to taste it and savor the experience. Other times, like the white cake chapter, I felt as if the person’s story overwhelmed the food, and I came away wanting more: more savoring, more magic, more experience. More food. There can never be enough food.

But then, sometimes even the best food can leave one unsatisfied.

Rated: Mild — there’s some mild language, but only a couple of instances.

— Reviewed by Melissa Fox

Melissa Madsen Fox's blogging career began in 2004 when she started Book Nut. Reading, reviewing and book blogging have taken over what's left of her life after being a stay-at-home mom to four rambunctious daughters and wife to a slightly- absent-minded professor of political science.

Comments are closed.

clean book review The School of Essential Ingredients
  • The School of Essential Ingredients
  • by Erica Bauermeister
  • Rated: Mild
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: