Review by Shwetha H S
Erica Bauermeister, the author of The School of Essential Ingredients, has written other novels and they too revolve around the art of cooking. The essence of her writing is that cooking good food and keeping a good relationship are not different from each other.
Lillian owns a restaurant. Every year, she conducts cooking classes and it is with limited number of seats. On the night of first Monday of every month, she closes the restaurant for the customers and opens her kitchen to her students. Lillian teaches her students to how to ditch the recipes and go by their instincts and depend on their senses. Though the classes are once a month, the students become close to each other with each class. The School of Essential Ingredients is all about how cooking changes the lives of Lillian’s students.
At first, we have Lillian herself. She is a motherly character to all the students who attend her cooking classes. Lillian owns a famous restaurant that goes by her name. She doesn’t believe in recipes. She learnt how to cook when her father left her and her mother for another woman, and her mother, threw everything into air and immersed herself into the world of books. Lillian understands that the only way to bring her mother back to being herself is with food. With the help of Abuelita, who runs a spices and other ingredients shop, Lillian prepares delicacies that appeal to her mother’s senses. We have eight students for Lillian’s cooking classes. Claire is a young mother of two and wants to learn different dishes so that she can try them at home for her family. She has a loving, caring and understanding husband in James, who encourages her to take the classes. It is also narrated that James proposed to Claire in Lillian’s restaurant years ago. Carl and Helen make an elderly couple who have passed most of their lives together since they married very young. Carl and Helen love each other more than the recently married young couples. That doesn’t mean they had a smooth sailing marriage. Helen has an affair, but chooses to come clean with Carl and stay with him when she realises that she loves him no matter what. They struggle together until they are able to let go of past and be the same as ever with each other. Other students adore this couple. Antonia is an Italian kitchen designer working in USA. She still is not comfortable with her new location because she is unable to completely understand the fluent English of Americans thought she understands English. She misses her country and food, but is learning to enjoy American culture. Tom is young widower who lost his wife to lung cancer. He chances upon the cooking classes commencement announcement when he goes to Lillian’s restaurant with his friend and signs up for the class because his wife loved to cook and he wants to stay closer to her this way. He is always sad and his sadness is evident to other students and Lillian. Chloe is a girl who has passed out of high school and tries to earn money for college tuitions by getting a job of a busser in an eatery. There she meets Jake, a cook, falls in love with him and moves into his house. She has a tendency to drop things, and as she drops customer orders, she is fired and keeps changing her job. Her boyfriend becomes sarcastic and taunts her every waking minute. Lillian finds Chloe on one of her ever changing jobs and offers the girl a job when she loses yet one more. Chloe wants to learn how to cook so that she can prepare delicacies and win Jake back. She too joins Lillian’s cooking classes and her mentor waives off the fee. Isabelle is an old widow who is forgetful, but laughs at her failing memory. She is there to keep herself indulged in her old age. Ian is a young man who is attending the cooking classes because his mother gifted him the coupon for Lillian’s cooking classes. He believes in preparing himself before starting something new. He prefers to update himself by discarding the old ones and is not attached to anything. He attends the cooking classes and falls head over heels in love with Antonia who is opposite in nature to him. Antonia is aware of his feelings for him, but waits for Ian to muster courage to ask her out. What will Lillian teach her students? Will Claire learn to cook marvellously for her family? Will Carl and Helen stay together even after the cooking classes? Will Ian ask Antonia out and will she agree? Will Tom overcome his sorrow? Will Chloe get back to normal with her boyfriend? To find answers to all these questions, read The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister.
The School of Essential Ingredients appeals to not only your mind, but also to your heart and taste buds. Each chapter has a hidden recipe, which is not an actually recipe. You will enjoy reading this tasty novel. You will feel each character speaking to you and knocking on the doors of your emotions while the aroma and taste of what they cook rise to your senses. Whether you are a foodie or not this well-written novel is worth your time. It will not keep you awake all night to finish one more chapter, but it will surely not let you leave it midway.