There’s nothing more luscious than the feeling of falling in love, especially for the first time. I don’t know if the feeling differs greatly from one person to another but I imagine we’re all familiar with the heady rush, the acute awareness of our own pulse, the calm headiness of being with someone who makes you feel this way. It is, at once, an exciting and peaceful experience. Never before have I encountered that feeling with a book. I’ve felt safety, comfort, solace, gratitude, and even great annoyance or enlightenment. When I was reading The School of Essential Ingredients, I felt like I was falling in love.
Once a month on Monday night, eight students gather in Lillian’s restaurant kitchen for a cooking class. They come to learn the art behind Lillian’s dishes, but it soon becomes clear that each one unknowingly seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. One by one, they are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of what they create. Over time, the paths of the students intermingle and intertwine, and the essence of Lillian’s cooking expands beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of their lives, with results that are often unexpected and always delicious.
I could read Erica Bauermeister’s writings on food for days on end. A huge fan of food memoirs, I love anything that gets my mouth watering, but Erica does more. She takes food and makes it a central character that ties every other loose end together. Whether talking about the soft ribbons of chocolate melting into a pan of hot milk or the lusty feeling that a strong whiff of oregano can stir, Erica has given food a soul and stolen your heart in the process.
If you’re hesitant about dipping into the lives of eight different characters, don’t be. There’s always an aura of mystery and an air of wanting to know more, but that only ties in with the overarching theme of essential ingredients. The bare essentials are shown and the rest is left to beautiful interpretation. What are the essential ingredients in the lives of these cooking students? There are no commonalities in race or age between them. Is it loneliness? Love? Fear? Bravery? What are your own essential ingredients? I’m only 23 but I am confident of one thing–I’ll be trying to figure out my essential ingredients for a long time to come.
If you’re the type of person who has endless patience with food and who realizes that real cooking comes from instinct, smell, and passion instead of a recipe, then this is *the* book for you. Anyone who has found solace in a spoon will understand how the lives of Lillian and her eight alluringly damaged pupils change in the kitchen. It’s culinary magic and literary grace at its finest.