After falling head over heels for the magical The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate, I was craving more books like that one. It’s rare I’ll award any book with a 5-star rating, but I didn’t have to think twice about it with my first ever Melissa Senate book. Soon after reading it, I went on a buying spree and filled my Amazon cart with nothing but Melissa Senate titles–especially when I heard she would be writing under a pseudonym for her next book (if anyone has happened to discover what book that might be, could you please let me know? I haven’t been able to find it).
I wish I could remember who told me about The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister; she recommended it to me based on my love for The Love Goddess’ Cooking School. I had high expectations for The School of Essential Ingredients, which has a few similarities to Senate’s book. Of the two, The Love Goddess’ Cooking School remains my favorite for this type of book. It’s hard for me not to compare the two, since I read one with the intention of finding a book just like it.
The School of Essential Ingredients takes place mostly at Lillian’s, a restaurant which closes the last Monday of every month for cooking courses with Lillian. Everyone has different reasons for why they are attending the classes, whether it’s to feel close to a deceased loved one, keep the magic strong in a marriage, or to simply use a gift certificate a family member gave with the best of intentions. Each chapter in The School of Essential Ingredients introduces a new character and his or her back story. Of all of the characters introduced, I felt most drawn to Chloe, Helen and Carl, and Tom. Truthfully, all of the characters were realistically realized, but it took me a bit of time before I was able to keep many of them straight. Chloe stood out to me because she hides behind a mask, and hasn’t yet developed into the amazing person she is. Helen and Carl are an older couple who have deal with breaking each other’s hearts, and come out of it being more in love than ever. And lastly, Tom’s story broke my heart. He had an amazing wife whom he lost to an illness, and he is slowly beginning to move forward with his life.
Bauermeister has a lovely writing style and a deep understanding of what makes a character compelling. These aspects of The School of Essential Ingredients were my favorite. This is a very character driven story, so if you are looking for an exciting plot or any sort of action, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I also suggest you eat before you start reading; Bauermeister’s descriptions of meals and ingredients were so vivid that my mouth began watering. It put me in the mood for a really extraordinary dish, something I wouldn’t find down the street at Chili’s.