The School of Essential Ingredients – Erica Bauermeister (2009)

The School of Essential Ingredients book coverA fun and fast read, this book focuses on a small group of adult students attending a casual cooking class at a local neighborhood restaurant. Written by an author who clearly appreciates food on a sensual level, characters are introduced one chapter at a time, and the reader gets to know their history and how they ended up at that particular class – all for varied and personal reasons, bien sur.

The narrative and descriptions were a bit OTT at times – a warm tortilla was described as “soft as a mother’s hand moving across the back of an almost sleeping child” – and I think that was probably more to excess enthusiasm on the part of the author than anything else. However, ignoring these scattered pieces of over-writing, it was a well written novel which told a good story. I love it when authors start off with disparate threads and end up with a finished tapestry at the end of the tale. Not a particularly new structure, by any means, but when it’s done well, it’s very effective.

If you’re a fan of Laura Esquival’s Like Water for Chocolate…  or perhaps Joanne Harris’ Chocolat, you’ll enjoy this (although this has fewer overt magical realism elements to it). Plus there’s a sequel (The Lost Art of Mixing) to this title being released later this month which will probably be a good read at a later date.

Bauermeister has also co-edited a collection of a wide range of book titles by women authors in a book called “500 Great Books by Women” to which I frequently refer as it’s a great reference tool. That’s a recommended read as well, and super-useful if you’re in a “I don’t know what to read next” rut.

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