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The School of Essential Ingredients

(The School of Essential Ingredients #1)

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  25,705 ratings  ·  4,467 reviews
Reminiscent of Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate, a gorgeously written novel about life, love, and the magic of food.

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 inclu
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published February 5th 2009 by Putnam Adult (first published 2009)
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Chocolat by Joanne HarrisLike Water for Chocolate by Laura EsquivelThe School of Essential Ingredients by Erica BauermeisterJulie and Julia by Julie PowellFried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
Nouvelle Cuisine
366 books — 256 voters
Chocolat by Joanne HarrisGarden Spells by Sarah Addison AllenLike Water for Chocolate by Laura EsquivelThe School of Essential Ingredients by Erica BauermeisterThe Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Foodie Novels
240 books — 162 voters

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Community Reviews

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Average rating 3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  25,705 ratings  ·  4,467 reviews

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Lisa Kelsey
Oct 25, 2008 rated it did not like it
Hmmmm...I see a lot of people here liked this book. For me the writing style was almost embarrassingly florid, and simile-laden. WAY too saccherine for me.
Dec 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The School of Essential Ingredients is a story of a cooking class, but is oh so much more! The spices, smells, textures, and flavors throughout the book are used as connection points to the students, their lives, memories, needs, and secrets. As you read this book, you get a warm, cozy feeling from it that lingers with you. You can almost smell and taste right through the book.

This is a book I probably would never have picked up, and if I had, it would have taken a long time for me to finally t
Aug 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: romance
To read this book, you absolutely need to love food. I do, even if I prefer eating than cooking! I'm a real foodie and reading all these food descriptions made my stomach rumble.


On the other hand, at a certain point, these same descriptions tired me a little bit...

I really liked the first chapter about Lillian and was disappointed that I couldn't read more about her later. I really appreciated this character. The idea of having a chapter about each of the people attending to the cooking cla
I am not sure if this book can be called a culinary exercise in poetic philosophy. But if it can work, then that is what I feel it is. Add a touch of fairyland and a dollop of romance to it and the end result is a gentle, dreamy, adventure into vegetables and meat.

Lilian runs a restaurant and offers cooking classes on Monday evenings when her business is closed. Through her teachings she is changing the lives of the participants who all came for different reasons to attend the lessons. They all
***oops--I misposted this review with the wrong book earlier this week. Sorry! I'm blaming holiday craziness!

This is a glorious book. It's about food as a touchstone and a means for memory, community, nurturing, healing, loving, seduction, sustenance, pleasure, joy, beginning, endings--life. It is the story of a cooking class that learns far more than culinary skills at the hands of a chef whose wisdom is not limited to food stuffs. The language is lush and decadent, rolling off the page and int
Aug 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: blog
The School of Essential Ingredients is a quick read focused on a Monday night cooking class held at a popular local restaurant, Lillian's. Lillian herself presides over these classes and, as someone who has always had an intrinsic understanding of the power of food to heal and comfort, she eagerly awaits each new class to see the transformations (some positive, some negative) that her students undergo as they respond to the food around them. The novel opens as Lillian welcomes her new students: ...more
Feb 12, 2009 rated it liked it
While I did finish this book, mainly to read about the food, this topic has been done before and done better, I think (by Joanne Harris and Sarah Addison Allen). I did not mind the magical realism (I am a fan of Alice Hoffman's, after all!) but the writing left a lot to be desired. I found the writing repetitious and the author used FAR TOO MANY SIMILES. By the middle of the book I was mentally groaning every time I encountered yet another simile.

Another thing that annoyed me was her over-use o
Carrie Kitzmiller
Dec 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008
When an ARC arrives at my house, it usually goes in the stack of ARCs waiting to be read. But recently, I have cut down on ARC requests and have been diligently making my way through them. I’m pretty sure I only have one left in the stack to read. So, when The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister arrived on Tuesday, it was serendipitous timing - I had just finished Blindspot, and hadn’t picked up another book yet.

I started it Tuesday night, staying up way too late reading. It gr
A solid 3.5 enjoyable read.

This was a comfort read for me. A cast of characters from all walks of life with very different experiences and at very different stages all come together once a week for cooking class. Of course, they learn so much more....about themselves, about each other and about how to look at and experience life. It was a quick and easy read, with a feel good ending. For me, the food was as much a character of this ensemble cast as the others. I would LOVE to find a class like
Oct 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My turn on the hotline was fairly quiet and I was able to quickly read this lovely debut (2009) novel of food and relationships. 4 stars for the enjoyment it brought me. It falls in line with a number of similarly styled novels such as Garden Spells, Water for Chocolate & Chocolat, but without as much magical realism infused throughout. The drop of magic comes from Lillian's uncanny ability to read people and know what kind of food lessons will meet their needs, which also reminded me of the boo ...more
Jul 06, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Someone far less jaded than I
Shelves: ebooks, chicklit, cooking
I have read way, way too many books like this. Several random individuals end up meeting regularly (in this case for a cooking class) and gradually bonding. Each character comes with his own set of traumas and in each chapter we meet a different one and learn his story, interspersed with the teacher's deep philosophical food musings as she demonstrates cake, turkey, or whatever (such pithy gems as, the flour is like the guy at the party who you don't realize is sexy until the end -- huh?). The t ...more
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This is a glorious book. It's about food as a touchstone and a means for memory,community, nurturing, healing, loving, seduction, sustenance, pleasure, joy, beginning, endings--life. It is the story of a cooking class that learns far more than culinary skills at the hands of a chef whose wisdom is not limited to food stuffs. The language is lush and decadent, rolling off the page and into your mind like a drug. I could taste, smell, see and feel everything as if I was indeed standing at the prep ...more
I've given 5-star ratings to a lot of books I've really liked. But "The School of Essential Ingredients" is on a totally different plane. This is a novel of pure love, toward food and toward life. I've never said this in any other review I've written either on here or in my movie reviews: This book will change your life, no matter if you simply read it straight through without much reaction. Scenes will creep into your memory at times you never expected. If you're not a foodie, you'll become a b ...more
Dec 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
This book was AMAZING!!!!! I was hungry while reading it, and hungry for more when I finished. Congrats to Erica for writing such an amazing first novel. I loved the how each chapter was a different characters point of view about their life and how they ended up in Lillian's cooking class. There were some of the best pieces of advice within the pages of this book. I think it really appeals to people who cook, or don't cook for that matter (like me) but now I want to really start learning how and ...more
Jul 06, 2009 rated it it was ok
A cabin weekend read, recommended (sadly) by NPR. I ended up reading parts aloud to Mara and Abby while we all read by the lake this weekend, because the writing was so florid (and because a grieving husband makes a very creepy tribute to his dead wife, involving her ashes and a cake served to her mourning friends).
The author made a rookie mistakes of writing from the perspectives of all of the characters while maintaining the florid, simile-laden language with every character, so you are force
I picked this because it was short and I was waiting for my other audiobook to get here so I didn’t want something that was going to take forever, in case the other book arrived within the week. I had no idea what it was really about except people coming together to cook and heal. That sounded nice. And it was nice. Actually, the story, itself, is quiet and lovely, centered on food and the individual lives of people in a winter cooking class.

I liked the first several pages, the idea of a little
Kate Olson
May 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Comfy, delectable, poetic and beautiful ~ a perfect book to read while the world is falling apart around us.
Jennifer (JC-S)
Mar 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
‘What matters is the grace with which you cook the meal.’

On Monday nights, over a period of weeks, Lillian gives cooking lessons to small groups. Lillian is a renowned chef who has her own restaurant, and her classes are popular. As the story opens, a new class is starting and we meet the eight students as they meet each other. Over the course of the book, each chapter combines the preparation of a meal with the story of one of the characters.

Each of the characters brings their own struggles,
Dec 20, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fictions-others
It probably sounds a bit sad that I actually give this book to myself as a Christmas present lol but I sometimes tend to be quite melancholy around Christmas,

First, I couldn't go home as every resources are reserved for my sister's wedding next February
Second, not going home means I couldn't ask mum to cook all her special dishes for me oh especially those sour-sweet shrimps oh yummy
Three, Christmas means baking cookies for the whole family oh yeah I can bake cookies hehe but maybe this time I
Dec 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The School of Essential Ingredients is more than a cooking school. Chef and instructor Lillian proves it's a chance to rediscover your own life. The School of Essential Ingredients allows readers a peak into the life of each student and we watch with pleasure as their worlds realign and come together.

While nothing earth-shattering really happnes here, the pacing is beautiful--it reads so quickly, but has that lovely, languid slowness that I crave on a January afternoon. This is a perfect read fo
Mar 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
It has been a long time since a book has charmed me as much as this little gem. It deals with the passion of the preparation of food. The bulk of the story takes place in a cooking class. The food preparation is intermingled with the life stories of the participants in the cooking class. It reminds me that so much of our lives are spent around food: happy times, sad times, lonely times. The author is a goodreads author and this is her first novel. I can only hope that many more will come from Er ...more
Charlie Marie
Aug 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is such a dreamy, delicious, lush and atmospheric story! It gives me a little bit of early Alice Hoffman vibes, with a touch of Chocolat, or Sarah Addison Allen, but is really something beautiful all it’s own! I read some sentences over and over, because they were just so gorgeous!

If you enjoy food writing, perhaps with a soupçon of maybe magic (or just the power of thoughtful cooking!), and sweet stories of people finding what they need in unexpected places, this book about Lillian and the
Kate Singh
May 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Well written. Sumptuous descriptions of food. Found myself cooking more than ever while reading through this book. Romance, food, happy endings.

I picked this book just because I wanted to read something different. I was bored of reading similar kinds of books. This was a genre that I had not explored so I thought why not. I ordered Chocolat and this book, both based on cooking and food just to see if I will like the genre. Both books were good but not mind blowing. They were not so good that I would want to read more books in this genre.

The writing and the language is beautiful.
Some quotes were good like -

"He knew that not all sticks i
Dec 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I just finished reading this book, which I must say I might never have picked up, except for the fact that I won it in a Goodreads Free Book contest. I'm so glad I did, because the book is very, very good. Essentially, it's the story of Lillian and the restaurant she owns where she holds cooking classes. However, that doesn't begin to tell the story. Lillian has a magical talent, which is that she can select food for individuals that helps them remember critical events in their lives in a positi ...more
May 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anyone looking for a breezy read without much substance
Recommended to Sharmeela by: Zuriel
Everything about this book was just okay to me. I found it to be very boring, predictable, all loose ends neatly tied by the finish. The descriptions of the food sounded delectable, but other than that all the story lines were pretty bland. Each student in Lilian's cooking class was conveniently broken in some two-dimensional way and under the spell of food and Lilian (doing her best fairy-godmother imitation) waving her magic wand, everything was miraculously right in the world again.
Not only w
Oct 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book is what happens to a culture that is saturated by “reality TV.” Each character gets his or her moment in the spotlight only to fade away into the background once their turn is over. We don’t get much depth of anyone’s personality, history, or goals; instead, we get a series of short stories, each with a happy ending.

Somewhat reminiscent of A Visit from the Goon Squad and Olive Kitteridge, The School of Essential Ingredients features a different character in each chapter. Unfortunately,
Simply put--one of my absolute favorite reads OF ALL TIME--FOR EVER!! Just completed a third reading of this novel in preparation for a second reading of the sequel The Lost Art of Mixing; all for the book club I facilitate. we will speak with Ms. Bauermeister this Saturday as part of our discussion! cannot wait! I never cease to be amazed by this book--the author's deft usage of such visual sensual language with regard to food. Being a "foodie" myself, I am especially appreciative of her writin ...more
May 13, 2011 rated it it was ok
I can appreciate what the author was trying to express – the power of food to reach people and bring them back to their essence. It could have been a great story had it been executed better. There were way too many metaphors and similes, and the writing was too flowery and sickeningly sweet for my taste. It seemed as if everything was "perfect" in this novel – the ripe tomato, the shape of pasta, the scent of bread. Everything mundane was taken to the extreme. I suppose that may have been the au ...more
Rebecca McKinnon
Dec 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
One of the best parts of this book turned out to be the thing I was a little wary of before starting it: every chapter is from a different character's viewpoint. I'm a people-watcher. I love to guess where people are going and why. This book takes that idea and actually gives you the answers. We get a glimpse into all these people's lives.

I was surprised how much I liked the story. It's a very quick read--I just got the copy yesterday afternoon and I'm already done. The descriptions, especially
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Erica Bauermeister is the NYT bestselling author of four novels -- The Scent Keeper (a Reese's Book Club pick), The School of Essential Ingredients,, Joy for Beginners, and The Lost Art of Mixing. Her memoir, House Lessons, will be published by Sasquatch March 24th, 2020. She is also the co-author of 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide and Let's Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Re ...more

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The School of Essential Ingredients (2 books)
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