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Showing 1-10 of 414 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 583 reviews
on February 11, 2017
I wanted to like this book, but reading it was complete sensory overload. It started off fairly strong and interesting, but by the halfway mark, the only reason I kept reading was because I wanted to leave a review. Basically, every person in this book thinks in terms of colors, smells, tastes, and sensations in general, and it becomes so monotonous and overdone that eventually you realize that they're all just thinking and expressing the thoughts of the author. It's like every character becomes the same person, and this person just happens to be on a quest to see how many literary devices she can cram into every sentence.

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.
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on May 4, 2015
The School of Essential Ingredients is a novel, but it's really a collection of short stories focusing on each of the students of the cooking class, and their teacher. I loved it. The author is a skillful writer, and she must be a very good chef, because her knowledge of and love for food and the entire preparation/serving process is remarkable. Very rich. She does add a pinch too much simile, plus repetitive use of people running fingers over this surface or that, but I'll forgive her because her descriptions are just wonderful. I think that may be her strongest suit. Here are examples:

"...Margaret's mother raised the cup of milk away from the pot, and Lillian looked at the sauce, an untouched snowfield, its smell the feeling of quiet at the end of an illness, when the world is starting to feel gentle and welcoming again...", and

"The beef bourguignon was bubbling in the oven, the smells of meat and red wine, onions and bay leaf and thyme murmuring like travelers on a late-night train."

There is a theme running through this novel, that of women offering themselves up for family - a noble and rewarding pursuit, but one which leaves them feeling a bit hollowed out (remember the Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein?) But another theme, that of slowing down and treasuring, savoring, indulging in, the simple things, works to help heal these people. In fact, after I finished the book, I found that the act of closing up my home for the night seemed a richer experience. I walked through the rooms thinking, "This is my beloved home. I love this room. I love these windows." etc.

The characters are well-developed and relatable, and there is a gratifying warmth between them as they struggle with the normal difficulties of life. There are several places in the book where one character reminds/asks/encourages another to answer the question, "what did you do today that made you happy?" Wouldn't we be better off for asking ourselves this question?
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VINE VOICEon May 29, 2013
Take a gorgeous gourmet restaurant, a patient and saintly chef/owner, and a medley of students attending a cooking class once a month over the course of a year. Mix well, and you have a delightful novel celebrating the beauty of food and the importance of people. Lillian has a culinary gift and provides instruction with generosity, charm, and grace. Each chapter is a lesson and told from the perspective of each individual student, including their back story and their motives for being in Lillian's class. As chapters and months progress, these initial strangers form a lovely camaraderie over delicious concoctions.

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.
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on March 17, 2013
I so wanted to love this book. I am a foodie at heart, and I love everything about food. What I don't enjoy is when someone takes the world of food and tries to make each aspect of it sound like a sonnet. Food has texture, smell, taste....but to make them into something that they are not, never good.
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.
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on March 20, 2017
Ingredients reminded me of a Maeve Binchy novel in its clustering of stories 'round an event that brings all the protagonists together. Another similarity is the respect with which Ms B. treats her characters' quirks and challenges. Here, the resemblance ends and the lyrical magic begins. I remember being only a "frame" for my children, and from then on having no true identity...... Ms B draws her analogies in pure poetry. Her metaphors are unique and spot-on. I could have read another 500 pages..... And look forward to doing so in her next novel.
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VINE VOICEon January 22, 2009
Lillian's father deserts his wife and young daughter literally, and then her mother deserts her figuratively -- disappearing deeply into the solace of books as a coping mechanism. As Lillian takes on the management of the household, she discovers an intuition for cooking and uses food alchemy to try to reach her mother. Later, when grown, Lillian applies this intuition to operating a first-class restaurant and conducting an annual series of cooking classes called the School of Essential Ingredients.

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.
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on March 27, 2017
This book was incredible! I liked Erica Bauermeister's Joy for Beginners when I read it last year, so I was anxiously anticipating this book. I was not disappointed. The members of this cooking school are unique and wonderfully described, and you care about each character's journey, not only as a cook, but as an emerging individual! If Erica Bauermeister has other books, they will definitely be on my "To Be Read" list!
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on May 8, 2017
I really enjoyed this story. it is a story of several strangers that enroll in a once a month cooking class at a local high end eatery. both the teacher and students all have interesting and complex stories and at the end a bit of sadness or love for just about every story. Also enjoyed the way she talks about food and cooking in this book. I really enjoy this authors books.
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on March 19, 2017
The first two chapters were really intriguing and the author obviously has talent, but the repetitiveness got old real quick. Each chapter details a difficult life event of a specific student, and then a meal is made in class that gives them a life changing revelation. Like I said, it got old real quick. There was also excessive use of descriptive and metaphorical language that was almost nauseating. It was just too much. I tried to finish but I realized I was never excited to continue and was just reading it for the sake of reading it so I quit.
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on April 11, 2016
There are books make you think, books that make you forget. And then there are books, like this one, that stir our soul, wakes up all your senses.Lillian is a restaurateur who runs a cooking school out of her homey bistro. She seems to have the magic touch when it comes to making simple ingredients into spectacular tasting dishes.
Approaching cooking as an art form is nothing new. But stripping dishes down to their most basic, letting the ingredients speak for themselves, that is truly art...and magic.And this is what Lillian is teaching her students.
Each student and their life is given a portion of the book,along with a dish in the class.The preparation of the dish is explored, as a conduit for memory, for what brought them to the cooking class and how it changes/awakens them.
The story line is sensuous, heart-breaking,sweet and oh so mouth watering!It makes you want to head to the kitchen! I have had play dates for years in my kitchen. I love to explore different cuisines, the more complex the better. But I believe I will go back to basics,take the time to feel and embrace the simple tastes and textures of ingredients, and let them tell me where they wish to go.
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