Saturday, January 22, 2011

Book Review: The School of Essential Ingredients


I'm a book gobbler.  Once I start a book I eat it.  If it's easy to get into and it's good, I'll plow through it in a day.  I don't tend to savor it.  I just get the essence and move on.  If I really like it, I'll come back and read it again in a few months so I can remember why I enjoyed it in the first place.

Books are like meals to me.  You've got your meat (or your tofu or beans for my veg friends), your sides, and your dessert.  You've got to throw a snack in here and there for some variety.  And then there are the guilty pleasures.  You feel bad reading them and you don't want anyone to know you read them, but you still like them...secretly.  Think The Twilight Saga.  Yeah, I got hell for that from my book club people.  I guess it should have stayed a secret.

The School of Essential Ingredients falls into the dessert category.  It's not a guilty pleasure because there's no level of embarrassment that you read it, but it's not at all meaty.  The book follows Lillian, a restaurant owner and chef, and her cooking class students as they cook their way through their meals and their lives.  Each chapter is dedicated to a member of the class and their back story interspersed with Lillian teaching them how to cook a meal that the author obviously thought would complement the character's story.  For example, the stay-at-home mother who is struggling with her identity and is described as "that cracked-apart person that had been Claire" is paired with cracked crab.  Tom, who is grieving from the death of his chef wife, is required to cook pasta and sauce---his wife's signature dish.  This drill gets a bit tiresome as the book goes on, but....

Yes, there's a big but.  The book really is delicious.  Despite the author's formulaic path to the end, it truly is a treat for someone who likes reading about food (me!).  The author's descriptions of food and locations are exquisite.  I could taste the creamy white cake!  I could feel the sun coming through the trellis on the patio!  I really wanted a bite of that tiramisu!  If the author had done as much with the character development as she did with the food description (perhaps this could have been achieved by reducing the number of characters), this book could have been so much more.  That being said, everyone can use a little dessert now and then.  I ate this one and it was tasty. 

3 comments:

Alice@Supratentorial said...

I keep hearing about this book but didn't really know what it was about. I like your description. Sometimes you just need a nice light dessert read. I'll have to put this on my TBR list for one of those times.

Jenner said...

Hi there, I found your blog through Amy Merrick's and noticed we have a lot in common. :)

Che said...

This was our book club book a few months back. I really enjoyed it. You are right though...no meat. :)