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The School of Essential Ingredients

The School of Essential Ingredients

4.1 313
by Erica Bauermeister

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A "heartbreakingly delicious" national bestseller about a chef, her students, and the evocative lessons that food teaches about life

Once a month, eight students gather in Lillian's restaurant for a cooking class. Among them is Claire, a young woman coming to terms with her new identity as a mother; Tom, a lawyer whose life has been overturned by loss;


A "heartbreakingly delicious" national bestseller about a chef, her students, and the evocative lessons that food teaches about life

Once a month, eight students gather in Lillian's restaurant for a cooking class. Among them is Claire, a young woman coming to terms with her new identity as a mother; Tom, a lawyer whose life has been overturned by loss; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer adapting to life in America; and Carl and Helen, a long-married couple whose union contains surprises the rest of the class would never suspect...

The students have come to learn the art behind Lillian's soulful dishes, but it soon becomes clear that each seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. And soon they are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of what they create.

Editorial Reviews

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
A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
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.
Publishers Weekly

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.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright Page














Special Excerpt from The Lost Art of Mixing

Special Excerpt from The Joy For Beginners


About the Author

Publishers Since 1838
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R oRL, England


Copyright © 2009 by Erica Bauermeister

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data


Bauermeister, Erica.
The school of essential ingredients / Erica Bauermeister.
p. cm.

ISBN: 9781101015698

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.

Meet the Author

Erica Bauermeister’s love of slow food and slow life was cemented by her two years living in northern Italy with her husband and children. She has taught literature and creative writing at the University of Washington and currently lives in Seattle with her family. The School of Essential Ingredients is her first novel.

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The School of Essential Ingredients 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 313 reviews.
maggieNJ More than 1 year ago
This book was wonderful. Makes you want to take the class or start one of your own. My hope is that she will write another book with a new class. Her descriptions of aromas and tastes are phenomenal. Make your mouth water and the way she brings it to a conclusion in such a short time is a wonder. Enjoy the book then go cook up a great, slow meal.
angeleyesAS More than 1 year ago
The endearing characters meet in cooking class where meals are not only prepared but are a healing mechanism to heal the inner spirit. Appetites are connected to the eight students aspirations and soothe the heart and soul. The chapters are told from each student's perspectve in flashback. This is a beautiful in-depth character study that will warm your heart! Wonderful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! It was a truly beautiful story. Even though each character only got a chapter, I felt like I knew and understood each one. It was very easy to see how each of their stories would connect them in the end. Lillian is the only character that I wish was developed a little more. She has such a powerful impact on each of the students in her class, I wish I connected a little more with her background. Each time I thought a character was a favorite, I started a new chapter. The book and each individual story was resolved perfectly. The imagery was amazing. I could easily see everyone and everything in the kitchen and the restaurant and I could smell and taste everything they were cooking. I have been inspired to go to cooking school. The book was DELICIOUS! I also think it would make an incredible series. Each book could have a new group of students (characters) with their own stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This beautifully written novel really makes you more aware of the little miracles in life and appreciate them in a whole new way. I am a sucker for anything with magical realism and this book is no different. The sensual and joyful celebration of food carries over to other aspects of life easily. It stands out, ezpecially during this time in our lives where the simple things mean the most to us.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this story a lot, even though it was a bit predictable at times. The stories describing the individual characters seemed genuine and made the characters interesting. I would have wanted more details on their lives. The main tie, the cooking school through the seasons, is original and tight. It is a feel-good story with a resounding note of realism. I look forward to this author's next book.
I_read_books More than 1 year ago
This wasn't a book I would normally read, but I bought it for book club at my local BNN, and I completely LOVED it! The story, the characters, the everything was so wonderful, just like a great meal. I highly recommend this book for anyone, whether you like to cook or not. And if you don't like to cook...you will!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book. It was a pleasant, entertaining, and easy read. The end gave me the impression that there may be more to come. I hope so. The ingenuity in the dishes they prepared in class were inspiring to my own culinary creations.
Frisbeesage More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful, warm-hearted book that is perfect for getting through to dark days of winter! Its the story of a Monday night cooking class presided over by Lillian the chef of a romantic little restaurant. Lillian knows that each of her students come for a different reason. Some come for confidence, some for adventure, and some for comfort, but each will leave with wisdom and passion they never expected to find.
Erica Bauermeister writes about food with impressive detail and feeling. This is a book that will leave you hungry for lovingly prepared, delicious food! Her writing style reminds me of Maeve Binchy. She weaves together the stories of fascinating, sympathetic characters. You will fall in love with them! Like a big bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup on a cold January night this book will leaave you warm and satisfied. I only hope that Erica is hard at work on her next novel!
Avocado More than 1 year ago
The School of Essential Ingredients is a warm and compelling read. The students at the cooking school learn much more than how to cook: the teacher uses cooking as a strategy by which to address spiritual issues within her students. Bauermeister¿s eye for vivid detail and engaging voice will make you want to cook, eat, and read her next novel.
Anonymous 3 months ago
It was hard to stop reading, I felt like mine as part of these lives
DoranneLongPTMS 11 months ago
This school for essential life ingredients is wonderful. I had to read the book very slowly, in order to capture every flavor, just as Erica recommends we savor the smells, tastes, and memories associated with food, cooking, and life itself. I can't wait to read this book again, to dive deeper into the lives of the characters and of course the food! I would love, love, love to see this as a movie.
Mcfan97 More than 1 year ago
Loved this book! Fun chick-lit book with a fun backstory. The only problem was there were so many characters to keep straight. Would definitely recommend. as a rainy day pleasure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like ingredients in a recipe, Erica Bauermeister blends individual character's lives together to create a wholly satisfying story. Sensually evocative imagery and language make this a warm blanket and tea pot read. The only down side for me was that it was too short. Thankfully there is another in the series! I suggest you curl up, get cozy and enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was a really nice read...style like Meave Binchey ...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading and I think this is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. I agree with whoever said it could make a wonderful movie (if done right; the casting would be tricky). I don't even cook and would not cook most of these recipes even if I did - I am a vegetarian. Doesn't matter - I loved it anyway.
Ronnabakerb More than 1 year ago
Amazing...it has been months since I read this and I still cannot quit thinking about it! 
Ivyst275 More than 1 year ago
After reading the 1st chapter decided to go no further.  I've just purchased a book for the donation pile.  So sorry too, I had wanted to enjoy this  read.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lovely writing. The story just flowed, characters own personal stories revealed gently and with grace and dignity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GrammieCA More than 1 year ago
A friend gave me this book and I fell in love with it and have given it to others. In this book, a group of people take a cooking class, and the teacher proves as much counselor as cooking teacher. Descriptions of food are poetic!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Esme1952 More than 1 year ago
Bauermeister is a brilliant author. Her books are stories, wonderful stories that tell about characters that are so real you expect to run into them on the block where you live. Their lives, and feelings all blend into a full course meal created with diverse ingredients of happiness, tears of pain, tears of joy, surprises from characters that grow and mature right in front of your eyes. She is an amazing author and a must read.