"This isn't eating. It needs its own word."
In The School of Essential Ingredients, author Erica Bauermeister shows the power of food and how it can bring people together, heal wounds, and teach valuable lessons.
As a child, Lillian developed a talent for and love of cooking as a means of drawing her mother out of the books into which she retreated after Lillian's father left them. Now, as an adult, she owns a restaurant that hosts a monthly Monday-night cooking class.
Her latest batch of students comes from all walks of life, and they will learn as much from each other as from Lillian herself. They all have different reasons for attending the class, as well as different levels of cooking experience.
The group consists of Helen and Carl, an older married couple with a rich and complicated history together; Antonia, a beautiful Italian kitchen designer; Claire, a mother of small children trying to rediscover herself and what makes her happy; Chloe, a young and clumsy waitress; Isabelle, an elderly woman in the early stages of Alzheimer's; Ian, there by his mother's desire for him to find his passion; and Tom, a lawyer "whose sadness seemed to have been pressed into his shirt."
The book is divided into each character's story, detailing what led them to Lillian's school and showing what they will gain from the experience. Tentative at first, tightly knit at the end, the group comes together over the "essential ingredients" of a good life and good food.
This novel was so satisfying on so many levels. It was such a sensory experience, as the writing was so evocative that I could feel, smell, and taste all of the dishes prepared. Bauermeister does an excellent job of lifting the food off the page and giving it a powerful life of its own.
And, the characters are so richly drawn and well-developed that I was tied to them nearly instantly, relating to them, feeling sympathy for them, and hoping that they all ultimately found exactly what they came to the class looking for.
This book...is a must-read.