Once a month an eclectic group of strangers meet in the kitchen of Lillian’s restaurant to participate in The School of Essential Ingredients. Shy and cautious at first they soon build a supportive rapport with one another, and under Lillian’s intuitive culinary tutelage blossom and grow in ways they never imagined possible.
Each chapter reveals a single participant’s story. Joy, heartache, personal failure, and successes are lovingly interwoven into the larger context of the cooking class. Some of the character’s you’ll meet inside Lillian’s kitchen include: Claire, a young woman struggling with balancing her personal identity with that of being a wife and mother; Tom, who is recovering from a seemingly insurmountable loss; Chloe, a shy and clumsy teenager desperately in need of a confidence boost; and Carl and Helen who have been married for decades, but harbor painful secrets from one another.
Erica Bauermeister’s ability to write about the human emotional connection with food is outstanding. Reading about the luscious dishes being created in class made me crave everything from roast crab to white cake. Of late, it has become popular for many books with a culinary slant to include recipes. However, as Lillian does not use recipes and encourages her students to feel, taste, and judge the timing and texture of their cooking on their own, the reader is only granted the same level of access. I definitely found myself repeatedly hoping that I’ll be able to recreate the elegant food so sensually described in the story, while also wishing that I could be a part of this amazing and personally transformative class. Where do I sign up?