The School of Essential Ingredients
By Erica Bauermeister
Berkley Books Publishers
This book is about Lillian who runs an evening cooking school, once a month on Mondays.
The rest of the week Lillian owns and operates “Lillian’s” an upscale and exclusive restaurant.
Her dining room seats only 10 people, and no one is rushed.
The menu changes without notice. A huge veranda holds the wanna-be diners and their wine glasses are kept full.
Lillian had an unconventional upbringing; her mother spent all her time reading. The girl grew up with no interest in reading whatsoever, but a tremendous feeling for food.
With her mother “in absentia” in a book, Lili had to fend for herself, especially in the kitchen.
Those who come to take classes at Lillian’s cooking school, are informed that the class is called the School of Essential Ingredients, but there is no list and no recipes are handed out.
This is a hands on class and there are only eight students. Each student has come for their own reasons.
Claire is the young mother of two who feels that the before-baby Claire was more interesting. She’s taking the course for herself.
Tom is a lawyer who has suffered personal loss. He is picking up the pieces of his life.
Carl and Helen are an older couple, determined to try new things in their retirement. Then there is Antonia, an Italian immigrant and designer, learning to adapt to American ways.
The cooking lessons had been given to Ian, the fifth member of the class, by his mother, who never cooked meals, because her life revolved around her painting. Ian’s mother was an artist.
Isabelle is a widow, her children are gone and it seems that things are slipping from her mind as well.
She likes the people at the cooking school, but doesn’t say much, in case she makes a fool of herself.
Then there is Chloe the youngest student.
She wears a lot of dark eyeliner and the man she loves and lives with is egotistical. It doesn’t help her confidence. She is taking the course for him.
The students and their stories are interesting and reminiscent of Maeve Binchy’s Evening Classes. What makes this book entertaining is the cooking itself.
Lillian begins with crab. It’s alive of course, and she doesn’t believe that the flavour is best served by dropping the animal in boiling water.
The murder of the crab seems brutal, but Lillian maintains it is more humane than the water route.
Then they make a cake, but what a cake! That is followed by a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner of pumpkin ravioli, stuffed turkey breast with rosemary, cranberries and pancetta, green beans with lemon and pine nuts.
Espresso and chocolate biscotti to finish. They make Spaghetti del Mare and tortilla’s with salsa.
Lillian is teaching them a love of good food, but her methods involve a kind of kitchen-therapy, and everyones life will change. A light book for a not-too-serious book club.
Peggy Freeman is a freelance writer living in Red Deer.