Monday, January 19, 2009
The School of Essential Ingredients
It wasn't until I received The School of Essential Ingredients that I realized I'd known of its author, Erica Bauermeister for some time. Bauermeister is the co-author of a book I return to again and again - 500 Great Books by Women. I happen to love books that are lists of other books, and I believe this is the one that introduced me to the genre. The thing that makes 500 Great Books so Great, is that each title is represented by a paragraph about it, to help you decide which books you might like. There is another version for girls which is also a lot of fun.
Anyway, I was excited to read The School of Essential Ingredients not only because it sounded interesting but because I knew how much its author loved books. This novel is the story of a cooking school, a cooking class really, and it is about food, and life, and love. We first meet Lillian, the cooking instructor and restaurant owner. She had a difficult childhood and found herself in cooking. Her cooking philosophy and restaurant reminded me of what I know of Alice Waters. Each chapter details one class, one meal prepared and one member of the class. We get to know each of them - the young mother getting out of her house, the mature stable married couple, the young Italian beauty, and several more. What struck me about this book was being reminded that everyone has a story, everywhere you go, that everyone is not just who they appear on the outside, but are complicated and experienced in the joys and sadness of life. Bauermeister writes brilliantly about food, it's textures, smells, and taste. My copy is an unfinished proof or else I would share a passage with you. I still think longingly of the pasta and sauce from one of the chapters and the cake from another. This is a quiet novel, ostensibly about cooking, but really about people. It's very well done, and I recommend it.