I loved the first Erica Bauermeister book I read – “Joy for Beginners” – so I was excited to start up on my second book of hers – “School of Essential Ingredients.” It was definitely delightful, just as I had hoped.
The story (mostly) takes place at a restaurant run by a very intuitive woman named Lillian. She hosts a cooking class for the community, which many types of people find themselves attending for various reasons. Some are aspiring chefs, some are eager home-cooks, some are desperate home-cooks, and some are there because the classes were given as a gift and they feel obligated to attend. However, due to Lillian’s welcoming nature, everyone finds themselves (either sooner or later) engrossed in the challenges and victories in each lesson.
In the very beginning of the book, Lillian opens with the first lesson, which is to prepare crab….live crab. Most everyone in the class is a bit squeamish about having to kill the crab before cooking it. I could relate to this. I can’t even kill the fish I catch! However, Lillian presents it in a way that both makes you think and spurs you onward to overcoming your fear/hesitancy. She explains that all cooking is an interruption in the process of life – that even the fruits and vegetables we prepare were alive at the time of picking and are now in the process of dying in some way. She also says that to only eat meat that has been previously prepared for us is a bit dishonest, as if to trick ourselves into believing that the way that the meat got to our hands was a tidy little process, just like the container it’s packaged in. When we are honest with ourselves and acknowledge that the process is messy, just as life is messy, we can see the importance (though not necessarily the requirement for every meat dish we prepare!) of taking the journey through from the life to the death, to the rebirth of the product (be it animal, fruit, vegetable, etc.) as a delicious dish meant to nourish, nurture, and provide joy.
As each lesson is carried out, the students begin to learn more about themselves, one another, and the way that the ingredients can open up a healing, transformative, and eye-opening door into living life with purpose. The process is beautiful and inspiring as a reader. It makes you want to grab new ingredients, prepare new dishes, and learn to see life anew. The way the author describes everything – from an ingredient to a setting to a person to the scent wafting through the air – is palpable and enriching. I felt I was living alongside these characters, experiencing their joys and struggles, and seeing the world change through their eyes.
When the story was ending, I actually got a little sad to be leaving these folks behind. I had grown to know them and would miss them. I also would miss the way that the writing inspired me to see my world differently, and to enjoy each thing in a new and different way. So, when I discovered that Erica Bauermeister has a third book – which is actually a sequel to this book – I was thrilled! Better yet, it was at my local library in their audiobook collection! I downloaded it and am currently working my way through it at my cleaning job. I am loving being back in the world of Lillian, the friends she (and I…haha) made in the cooking class, and most of all, in the way she views the world. I am sort of sad to finish this book (even though I’m not even halfway through!). I’m tempted to listen to the whole collection over again.
I’m also considering looking into taking a cooking class. I think it’d be so much fun, plus I’d love to learn some of the techniques and concepts that I *sort of* know, but kind of have made up as I went along. Also, I’d love to learn to use ingredients I rarely use/never use. I’m very open-minded when it comes to trying new foods and cuisines, so I think that a cooking class would be a very enriching experience for me. Now I have only to find one locally…