Monday, December 3, 2012

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Lillian's restaurant not only offers diners tantalizing dishes to tempt their palate, for those who are interested they can learn to make these dishes themselves. The restaurant may be closed to patrons on Mondays, but behind those closed doors, owner Lillian teaches folks about the essential ingredients. Here they'll learn much more than just following instructions in a recipe. Each student will walk away with an experience unlike any other.

The School of Essential Ingredients is an interesting read in that it's not a standard linear novel. In fact, it reads more like a collection of short stories bound together by the class itself. Each chapter features a different student and their story.

There's Lillian herself and how she came to love cooking and understand that ingredients can elicit all sorts of responses from eaters. Then there's Claire, a mother who's lost herself in her family. Carl and Helen are the only couple attending the class. While they seem close and loving, their relationship has had its fair share of rocky times. Antonia is new to America and works as a kitchen designer. Tom is grieving his wife. Chloe longs to find her place but also has the urge to learn to cook, something her boyfriend isn't necessarily supportive of. Isabelle's memories are slipping away. And Ian finds comfort in food as well as a new love interest in Lillian's class.

I have mixed feelings over this book because I wasn't expecting the short story format. The prologue and Lillian's chapters hooked me, without a doubt. But when the next chapter began and it wasn't a continuation of Lillian's story, I was disappointed. I didn't want to be -- Bauemeister's writing is lush and vivid and her characters are all a bit enchanting. I just wanted more of Lillian's story. Fortunately, I'm on the TLC tour for the follow up book tomorrow, so I did get more of Lillian's tale in the end anyway.

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