The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

I picked up this book at Barnes & Noble the day before Dewey's read-a-thon. It was on the staff recommendations bookshelf, recommend by Tom. I also noticed Tom recommended The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Under his recommendation he wrote this was one of his favorite books that was recently published. The Elegance of the Hedgehog also happened to be one of my favorite reads of 2010, so I quickly decided I could trust Tom's taste in books and bought The School of Essential Ingredients. It turns out this book wasn't anything more than a beach read; light, easy and less than fulfilling.

The book details the inner-workings of a cooking class, briefly delving into the lives and history of each student, with a focus on the cooking instructor. While certain phrases and ideas shined through every now and then, overall I found the story to be blunt and lacking depth. The characters felt contrived and everything wrapped up a little too neatly for my taste.
A few participants had no desire for lessons at all, arriving with gift certificates in hand as if on a forced march to certain failure: they knew their cakes would always be flat , their cream sauces filled with small, disconcerting pockets of flour, like bills in your mailbox when you had hoped for a love letter.
This book may as well have been a bill in my mailbox, because I enjoyed it just the same. Lesson learned; Tom is no longer to be trusted.

Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group, 2009


  1. I so enjoyed the audio version of this one and look forward to her newest book soon as well.

  2. I agree. I really enjoyed the language when providing descriptions of the food- so comforting and exotic, at times. However, the introduction to the book didn't really offer much besides setting up that the chef was a serious foodie from a young age. And the relationships of those attending was like a freaking episode of horrid soap opera. I enjoyed the bits about the food, but the rest of the novel was sorely lacking. Boo goes out to Tom.

  3. Diane, I do like lighter audio books. I have a hard time concentrating on audio while driving, so I always opt for easier reads. Maybe I would have preferred it a little more had I listened to it on a solo road trip.

    Beth, Her descriptions of food were good but then after awhile they just all sounded the same, like she was rehashing her descriptions over and over again. And you are spot on when you say the characters were from a horrid soap opera - gah! It was bad. Sorry we both wasted our time on this one :(

  4. I agree, boo Tom! I saw several gushing reviews of this book, but it missed the mark for me. What I remember most about this one was the sentence structure: tons of commas and flowerly prose and run-on sentences. The character development was lacking, too, in my opinion.

  5. I hope I'm not becoming a snob but I've really noticed a lot of contemporary fiction seems really contrived. I read The Hundred Foot Journey (another foodie fiction) recently and I really hated it. Thanks for the warning!

  6. Baily, You're right, very flowery prose. It was almost too much.

    Karen K., I don't think that sounds snobish. I haven't read The Hundred Foot Journey but I'll stay away from it!

  7. Next time you go by Barnes and Nobles, you should leave him a word on his shelves saying: "Fuck you Tom, you owe me twelve bucks".

    I don't trust the recommendation at my Chapters store for a simple reason. One will recommend every fucking book within a certain genre. Gino loves crime fiction. He will recommend me Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Flannery O'Connor, Dennis Lehane and Jim Thompson. Ellen loves YA, she has her sticker on every fucking trendy YA book. They are usually very young or easy to impress and have no taste whatosever.

    That was my rant :)

  8. Ben, I mean I think it would be a little drastic to leave the note, but I do agree with your sentiments.