Erica Bauermeister’s The School of Essential Ingredients is a warm, light-hearted novel about a motley crew of strangers who come together for a cooking class on Monday evenings at Lillian’s restaurant. Among them is Claire, a young mother struggling to find herself in a haze of toddlers and diapers; an elderly married couple; an attractive Italian woman with bubbling energy; a man still grieving over the loss of his wife; a computer engineer with a discerning palate for herbs and spices; a young girl who manifests her low self esteem by being clumsy and awkward; and an elderly lady with bouts of dementia. They enter Lillian’s restaurant as strangers. With gentle nudges from an unrealistically omniscient Lillian who seems to know exactly which culinary masterpiece is needed for the occasion, the strangers become acquainted with each other, emerging at the end of the cooking class with souls that have been healed, lives that have been restored, and friendships that have been forged.
The novel is a quick and easy read. It suffers somewhat from its predictability, its lack of depth, and its abundance of sentimentality. But if you’re looking for a “feel good” novel that restores your faith in humanity while stimulating your taste buds, you can’t go wrong with this.