Review: The School of Essential Ingredients

The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister

The Down and Dirty

Renowned chef Lillian owns a restaurant in the Pacific Northwest and every Monday night she hosts a cooking class.

Yep, that's pretty much it. Sounds too simple, right?

The Literary Criticism

A Reader's Respite doesn't cook. Unless you count boxed macaroni-n-cheese (Kraft brand only) or frozen corndogs. Food holds no particular appeal for us aside from assuaging whatever current craving is present (brownies, anyone?).

Likewise, food-related novels have traditionally held little interest around here.

But that all changed the day Erica Bauermeister's debut novel, The School of Essential Ingredients, arrived in the mail.

Breakfast at A Reader's Respite before The School of Essential Ingredients

Slated for release today, this novel is, above all else, a beautifully written character study of each student in Lillian's class. Each character is given their own chapter and their diversity is bound to strike a chord in readers from all walks of life.

Bibliophiles everywhere will see themselves in Lillian's mother, a woman who used books to escape the harsh realities of life.

Mothers will be drawn to Claire, a young woman who gave up her identity to be a wife and mother.

Young adults seeking to find direction in this world will be drawn to Chloe, who is still trying to create an identity.

And there are more; each character more compelling than the last. Each character finds that the simple act of creating meals illuminates many of life's problems and can sometimes even provide solutions.

Breakfast at A Reader's Respite after The School of Essential Ingredients

The story itself is not near as important as how it is told. There is a difference between writing and prose, and prose doesn't have to be difficult to read or enjoy. Bauermeister masterfully proves this again and again throughout the novel.

You find yourself revisiting passages not to understand some convoluted prose, but to savor and enjoy it.

You will want to eat this book.

Our Recommendation

Highly recommended. A brilliant first novel and if you've never read a food-related novel, this is where to start. You won't want the book to us on this one.

Title: The School of Essential Ingredients
Author: Erica Bauermeister
ISBN-13: 978-0399155437
256 pages
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Date: January 22, 2009

Other Opinions in Blogland:

Books and Cooks
Peeking Between the Pages
Julie's Jewels
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Leafing Through Life


  1. I love Eggos! Not sure I could give them up for asparagus in the morning. :-)

    Glad you loved the book! I'm seeing nothing but great reveiws on this one.


  2. I loved this book, too!

  3. Lezlie and Kathy - I swear, you two must have your feed readers on speed dial! Jeepers, you're quick! :)

  4. WOW!! As you know, I'm a foodie -- I love food and I love to cook (and I'm thankfully blessed with a metabolism that can handle it, cause I really should weigh about a zillion pounds more than I do -- but I digress).

    If this book can inspire Ms. RR, then it will likely inspire Ms. BFR to new levels of kitchen magic. Mr. BFR will be forever in your debt.

  5. Thanks for giving such a great review...but now I'm hungry! And that breakfast looks pretty impressive compared to box mac and cheese!

  6. I trust you on this one! If you're not a foodie, and loved the book, I most likely WILL eat it. Like Beth, I am a cook and whino. Everytime I read a book like this, I go on a spastic cooking binge!

  7. You will want to eat this book.

    *snigger* It's so true! I felt so guilty reading a few chapters of this book, and then going to heat up a frozen pizza for dinner... :)

  8. Great review Michele-love the pics to go along with it. I'm glad you liked the book, it's one of my favorites this year. Thanks for linking my review. I always forget to do that when I write mine-major blonde moments. lol.

  9. This book sounds fabulous! I'm not much of a cook. I used to think I was a good cook, but the older I get the more I realize that I have two or three decent meals that I can make and everything else is of the Hamburger Helper variety. :) My husband is a much better cook than I am but he doesn't have time for it.

  10. Beth - can't tell you how often I thought of you and your gourmet cooking while I was reading this one! It would probably benefit you way more than it does is inspiring, though.

    Jo-Jo - don't disparage ol' mac-n-cheese! There's something to be said for something that gets the kids to eat, LOL.

    Sandy - I do so envy you and Beth...I should probably take a cooking class someday. I love to create things and if I ever get my kitchen remodeled, I think I could have some real fun!

    Fyrefly - I know exactly what you mean! I felt guilty that I wasn't cooking like they were. :)

    Dar - it was my write such fabulous reviews!

    Alyce - I hear you. Mr. RR is a much more prolific cook than I am. For me, the kitchen is only there to house the coffee pot. ;)

  11. This book looks delicious! I'm not a cook either, I usually blame it on my poorly designed kitchen with minimal counter space, but really the promlem lies with me. I torture myself watching cooking shows on tv. It would be much better to torture myself in print, so I'm putting this book on my wishlist!


  12. Thanks, Michelle. Can't wait to read it.

    Also, just tagged you for an award over on my page that will post tomorrow morning :)

  13. Wow - I'm sold! Fantastic review, Michele. I'm a little bit of a foodie, but food related fiction usually falls short for me. I'm seriously considering giving this one a try. I love character-driven novels.

  14. Great review Michele! Frozen waffles are much better than frozen pancakes.

  15. Ok. I'm convinced. Thanks for the great review.

  16. I'm definitely no cook at all - I manage to bake some cookies from time to time at my most adventurous, so I was surprised at how much I loved this book.

    You're right - I *did* want to eat it! =D

  17. Michele, I have two copies on my shelf and I was going to give them away to readers, but you've made me reconsider. It's not often that a review can make you hungry -- but yours did!
    p.s. As always, your photos are a terrific addition to the blog.

  18. Carey - I blame it on my kitchen, too. I swear when the remodel is done, I'll turn into Julia Child (but only if I can be a spy like her, too!).

    TexasRed - awww, thank you!!!! That's so nice!!!

    Shana - if you get a chance, give it a try....the characters are just lovely and you won't want it to end.

    Luanne - frozen pancakes? Ewwwwwww. :P

    Petunia - give it a shot. Quick read and such a pleasure.

    Megan - didn't it just make you want to be a better cook and actually think about the ingredients and what they mean?? I was amazed.

    Dave - did the double-book from the publisher strike again?? I've been on a roll with that....a book comes, you get all excited and *bam* it's just another copy of a book they already sent. I blame it on their computers, lol. But they are indeed wonderful for giveaways and makes for good publicity, that's for certain. Thanks for stopping by! Love your column/blog!

  19. Your review is creating rave reviews ;) I read at Beth F's about yuor review and jumped and came here to read it myself... ohh my it is yummilicious!

    love the review.. i want the book :)

  20. 'Round here, I eat the Kellogg's toasterizable "Pancakes".... mmm, good.
    But this Essential Ingredients book has really revolutionized the Reader's Respite kitchen, huh? From Eggos to.. asparagus enchiladas?
    I should read the thing!
    Have you ever read Jim Crace's The Devil's Larder? It too is all about food.

  21. Veens - welcome back, you ol' married lady! (Congrats!)

    Cip - No, I have not, but as much as I enjoy short stories, I suspect one of Crace's might give this old gal a heart attack right on the spot, lol. I see they've changed the cover from the old paperback version...wonder how many people have unknowingly picked up the one with the new, innocuous cover and gotten a bit of a shock? ha.

    *must check out this frozen pancake you people keep talking about*

  22. I've seen so many rave reviews for this book. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it, and what a difference it made when it comes to your breakfast! :) I just received this book in the mail, and I can't wait to read it.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  23. I bake, I don't cook. Lucky for me, hubby is such an incredibly picky eater that I don't have to feel bad about it! However, I actually enjoy food-related novels lol- especially cozy mysteries!

  24. I just finished this and loved it. "You will want to eat this book"...sums it up perfectly!


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