Friday, March 15, 2013

E-Reading: Book Review of The Monday Night Cooking School by Erica Bauermeister

Name of Book: Monday Night Cooking School aka The School of Essential Ingredients

Author: Erica Bauermeister

ISBN: 9780141038834

Publisher: Penguin Books

Part of a Series: The Lost Art of Mixing a sequel

Type of book: Food, cooking, identities, relationships, life, blazing ahead, restaurant, 2000s, reliving life

Year it was published: 2009


Once a month on Monday night, eight students gather in Lillian's restaurant for a cooking class. Among them is Claire, a young woman coming to terms with her new identity as a mother; Tom, a lawyer whose life has been overturned by loss; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer adapting to life in America; and Carl and Helen, a long-married couple whose union contains surprises the rest of the class would never suspect.

The students have come to learn the art behind Lillian's soulful dishes, but it soon becomes clear that each seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. One by one they are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of what they create, including a white-on-white cake that prompts wistful reflections on the sweet fragility of love, and a garlic and red sauce that seems to spark one romance but end another. Over time, the paths of the students mingle and intertwine, and the essence of Lillian's cooking expands beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of their lives, with results that are often unexpected, and always delicious.


The characters are complex and drawn well. You're only allowed a glimpse of their inner lives and why they are in the class with a chapter only. While that may be good and interesting, it can be negative too because you don't see why they decide to make changes they do. Many things about them remain mysteries; such as why Lillian never married, or how did the class help the new mom, and how some characters will manage to get along, or where the relationships will go. Small wonder the author chooses to write a sequel to the book, which is why I decided to read this one in the first place.


Food is important for everything, not just consumption.


Its written in third person narrative omniscient point of view. Per chapter you can see the characters' thoughts and actions and you cannot understand what others think and why they think that way. Food and Lillian play an essential role in helping people overcome themselves, as well as help them forge new identities and relationships. I'm amazed at how much the food plays a role in our daily lives, yet how little attention is paid to it in books.

Author Information:

Pasadena, California, The United States



Literature & Fiction, Nonfiction

E.M. Forster, Jane Austen, Susan Vreeland, Joanne Harris Alice Hoffman...more

member since
February 2009

About this author

Erica Bauermeister is the bestselling author of the novel The School of Essential Ingredients and the upcoming novel Joy For Beginners (June 9, 2011). The School of Essential Ingredients is currently being published in 22 countries and Joy For Beginners was recently selected to be performed as part of the New Short Fiction Series in Los Angeles (June 12, 2011). Erica Bauermeister received a B.A. from Occidental College and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. She is also the co-author of 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader's Guide and Let's Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington with her family.


If you want to be hungry, prepare to read this book. The best way to describe it is, well, "food porn," but trust me there isn't anything sexual in the book. There's getting together, learning, an other worldly presence of Lillian's sixth sense, description of lives and the stages of life as well as food, courtship and how important the smells and textures are to human beings. I found it a beautiful read and many times I got a bit hungry reading about the description of the way food cooks and so forth. The book also has second chances. It sounds like a simple story but its not, not really. The book is about eight people, but while you are learning their histories, time marches on and courtships and whatnot emerge.

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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