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An elegant debut novel that serves up an epicurean concoction as memorable as Like Water for Chocolate.
Every Monday evening, eight men and women come to Lillian's Restaurant to learn cooking and, perhaps, also find a healing recipe for the very diverse problems in their own lives. Lillian, a master chef in more ways than one, knows that she teaches lessons more subtle and far-reaching than chopping or blending or achieving the ideal texture. In her classes, she imparts wisdom through the essential ingredients that she combines and shapes into aromatic, delectable treats.
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.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal - BookSmack!
If the connected stories of Holly's students and the magic of cooking are what captured your readers, then Bauermeister's lush and evocative story should make a great next read. Ever since Lillian was a little girl, she has understood the power of food to fulfill the heart's desire. As a successful restaurant chef, she now hosts a cooking school, helping others explore the magic ingredients that their lives are missing. Told in a series of character studies, the novel illuminates the lives of Claire, a young mother overwhelmed with her new role; Carl and Helen, a long-married couple with a complicated history; and a handful of others (including a Lillian herself). Each finds hope and solace in this novel that unfolds in a pace similar to Senate's and with the same attention to detail and description. — Neal Wyatt, "RA Crossroads," Booksmack! 2/3/11
Read an Excerpt
Table of Contents
Special Excerpt from The Lost Art of Mixing
Special Excerpt from The Joy For Beginners
About the Author
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Copyright © 2009 by Erica Bauermeister
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The school of essential ingredients / Erica Bauermeister.
1. Women cooks—Fiction. 2. Cooking schools—Fiction.
3. Friendship—Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
For Heidi, Karin, and Dad
Lillian loved best the moment before she turned on the Lights. She would stand in the restaurant kitchen doorway, rain-soaked air behind her, and let the smells come to her—ripe sourdough yeast, sweet-dirt coffee, and garlic, mellowing as it lingered. Under them, more elusive, stirred the faint essence of fresh meat, raw tomatoes, cantaloupe, water on lettuce. Lillian breathed in, feeling the smells move about and through her, even as she searched out those that might suggest a rotting orange at the bottom of a pile, or whether the new assistant chef was still double-dosing the curry dishes. She was. The girl was a daughter of a friend and good enough with knives, but some days, Lillian thought with a sigh, it was like trying to teach subtlety to a thunderstorm.
But tonight was Monday. No assistant chefs, no customers looking for solace or celebration. Tonight was Monday, cooking-class night.
After seven years of teaching, Lillian knew how her students would arrive on the first night of class—walking through the kitchen door alone or in ad hoc groups of two or three that had met up on the walkway to the mostly darkened restaurant, holding the low, nervous conversations of strangers who will soon touch one another’s food. Once inside, some would clump together, making those first motions toward connection, while others would roam the kitchen, fingers stroking brass pots or picking up a glowing red pepper, like small children drawn to the low-hanging ornaments on a Christmas tree.
Lillian loved to watch her students at this moment—they were elements that would become more complex and intriguing as they mixed with one another, but at the beginning, placed in relief by their unfamiliar surroundings, their essence was clear. A young man reaching out to touch the shoulder of the still younger woman next to him—“What’s your name?”—as her hand dropped to the stainless-steel counter and traced its smooth surface. Another woman standing alone, her mind still lingering with—a child? a lover? Every once in a while there was a couple, in love or ruins.