The School of Essential Ingredients follows the lives of eight students who gather in Lillian’s Restaurant every Monday night for cooking class. It soon becomes clear, however, that each one seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen.
Students include Claire, a young mother struggling with the demands of her family; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer learning to adapt to life in America; and Tom, a widower mourning the loss of his wife to breast cancer. Chef Lillian, a woman whose connection with food is both soulful and exacting, helps them to create dishes whose flavor and techniques expand beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of her students’ lives.
One by one the students are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of Lillian’s food, including a white-on-white cake that prompts wistful reflections on the sweet fragility of love and a peppery heirloom tomato sauce that seems to spark one romance but end another. Brought together by the power of food and companionship, the lives of the characters mingle and intertwine, united by the revealing nature of what can be created in the kitchen.
My Thoughts - Lyrical, magical and poignant, this story reminded me of yet another irresistible story - Chocolat. Like that book, this is all about people and food and how the two are inexplicably intertwined.
I loved the author gently paces the story, starting with an introduction to Lillian, the chef, and how her unconventional upbringing gets her interested in food - not just cooking it, but its smells and how it affects people. The same message is conveyed through the rest of the story as students to Lillian's culinary school, come with various expectations, but in class, through the food, find a sort of fulfillment that they didn't even know they lacked.
Each student's story is different, but touching in its own way. The sum of their stories makes up this book and I feel richer for having read it.
And frankly, Hungry! Not just for Food, but for its underlying sensuousness and for the power it unconsciously wields over our lives through texture and tastebuds.
You can also read Anna's review (along with links to other people who've reviewed this book) over there.
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