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Fixed on Fiction

The School of Essential Ingredients

For our September meeting, Fixed on Fiction met to discuss The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister-

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.

-Summary courtesy of Goodreads.

Before we began our discussion of The School of Essential Ingredients, the group discussed other titles that we have been reading:

Chicago Stories edited by James Daley

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

You Are Not Special by David McCullough

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Moving on to The School of Essential Ingredients, here are some of the initial comments readers made while discussing their reaction to this month’s title:

  • I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoyed it and I was delighted that I could read it in one day. The ending was happy but not realistic.
  • I enjoyed it for what it was. Light read but certainly enough substance to keep me interested.
  • So-so. I didn’t like it at first but I gave it another shot. A fast read. I like the philosophical nuggets more than the food descriptions…I found those too shallow. I did enjoy the characters.
  • Thumbs-up! Sweet and light. Not realistic at all but I enjoyed it.
  • So-so. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t amazing. Pleasant. Little snapshots of people’s lives. Fluff, but fine.

Other thoughts:

  • Lillian’s whole purpose is her next cooking class. Her life seemed too casual. Very sage and calm.
  • Lillian’s lesson was inserting herself (or her spirit) into each dish.
  • Lillian was like a fairy godmother. i.e. Calling Tom for Isabelle.
  • Chloe’s boyfriend- being a chef was his whole identity so he was easily threatened by Chloe’s decision to cook as well.
  • Interesting that you hear Carl’s version of the affair before Helen’s. She was really just trying to spare his feelings.
  • Carl and Helen’s story takes you through the harder part of marriage. Should you reveal a secret if you’re only doing it to unburden yourself? The fact that they worked it out was interesting.

Additionally, FoF felt that The School of Essential Ingredients was reminiscent of several films-

No Reservations  

Like Water for Chocolate


Julie and Julia

It’s Complicated (for the kitchen/bakery scenes)

These are just a few of the comments made during our meeting, please feel free to share additional thoughts on The School of Essential Ingredients in the comments section below.


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