- Hardcover: 258 pages
- Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons; 1 edition (January 22, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0399155430
- ISBN-13: 978-0399155437
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (575 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #674,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The School of Essential Ingredients Hardcover – January 22, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
In this remarkable debut, Bauermeister creates a captivating world where the pleasures and particulars of sophisticated food come to mean much more than simple epicurean indulgence. Respected chef and restaurateur Lillian has spent much of her 30-something years in the kitchen, looking for meaning and satisfaction in evocative, delicious combinations of ingredients. Endeavoring to instill that love and know-how in others, Lillian holds a season of Monday evening cooking classes in her restaurant. The novel takes up the story of each of her students, navigating readers through the personal dramas, memories and musings stirred up as the characters handle, slice, chop, blend, smell and taste. Each student's affecting story—painful transitions, difficult choices—is rendered in vivid prose and woven together with confidence. Delivering memorable story lines and characters while seducing the senses, Bauermeister's tale of food and hope is certain to satisfy. (Jan.)
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Top Customer Reviews
Seriously, I teach high school English, and one page (and any page would do, since they're all pretty much the same) of this book could keep my students busy hunting for metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, and every other literary device known to man for an entire period.
The author can definitely write, and there were very few typos, which I definitely appreciate. Even the constant use of sensory detail was okay in the beginning, and for a while I even admired the writing...but when every single character that marched across the page proved to be ANOTHER person who judged the world by food, smells, textures, etc., and described them with the same literary ability whether they were a teenage punk or an old man, it began to be way too much for me.
And maybe if Lillian, the main character, was older or had some good reason for her super power of seeing into the souls of every person she meets and instinctively knowing exactly what food will heal them--like, maybe a mystic grandmother who'd passed on a gift, or an alien encounter that left her with psychic powers...--or if there weren't several other people in the book who apparently had this same gift, I could have felt some connection for her, but there is no development of her character once she becomes an adult. She just smiles mysteriously, and presents people with clams or cake, and bam! their lives are changed.
And unfortunately, most of their lives just aren't that interesting, and unless you're someone who loves the turn of a phrase more than the development of a character, this book is pretty much a slow, meandering excuse for the author to talk about, describe, and experience food via the literary device.
I don't mean to be harsh, and I wish I had appreciated this book more because the writer obviously has talent. There truly were some beautiful literary moments in the book, but unfortunately, when you pair double chocolate cake with fudge icing, chocolate ice cream, chocolate fudge sauce, and a chaser of straight ganache, your appreciation for the chocolate tends to die a little more with every bite. Maybe next time around the author will make the metaphor a garnish rather than the appetizer, salad, main dish and dessert.
The book seems to be a mix of food network meets Maeve Binchy....who I do love as an original author. Taking random people and bringing their lives together in order to tell a story....well Ms. Binchy is the true master of that.
Also a pet peeve of mine, telling the reader something than leaving it hang. When making a cake you do need, sugar, butter, flour, eggs, but also baking powder, and if you are using buttermilk a bit of baking soda. The author has the butter, eggs, sugar, and baking soda come out, but the soda is never used and again unless it is buttermilk, baking powder would be the leavening ingredient of choice. Sorry I have a mind for details when reading
With that said I will read this book and debate about the others...I will also continue my quest for real food writing that takes a reader on a true journey of food.
Through themes associated with a particular food or meal, each chapter explores one class and the life of one of the students: a mother lost in the needs of young children; a long-married couple; a kitchen designer; a young widower; a misfit teenager; a software engineer; and a woman moving into the middle stages of dementia.
The writing is sensual and lush, the stories tender and hopeful, with a magical realism evocative of Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate. Since I finished the book, I've wanted nothing more than to read the stories of the next year's class. Highly recommended.
Be warned, reading this will make you hungry, but it also might make you ambitious. I found myself adding fresh herbs to my standard chicken dish and savoring flavors I had taken for granted. My only qualm is feeling like I didn't get to know Lillian well enough. She is laid out on the pages as a flawless individual who always says and does the right things. Perhaps her character will be further developed in the novel's sequel, so here's hoping that The Lost Art of Mixing delivers.