The School of Essential Ingredients – Erica Bauermeister (Audio Book)

Note: This book is called The Monday Night Cooking School in the UK, but is only available as an audio book under the title The School of Essential Ingredients.

I bought a copy of this book after Sandy raved about it and then included it in her top ten of the year. Good audio books are very hard to find, but Sandy listens to a lot of them and so if she raves about one then I know I’m in safe hands.

The School of Essential Ingredients is a weekly cookery class run by Lillian, a restaurant owner who taught herself to cook as a child in order to connect with her mother, a woman who had become depressed after her husband left her.

Each week the book focuses on a different one of the eight cookery students; we learn a bit about their lives and Lillian uses food to help them through their various problems.

Warning: This book will make you hungry!

The book is packed with amazing descriptions of food preparation – I could almost taste each dish as it was described and in many cases I wanted to rush out and make it. I think this is mainly down to the wonderful narration provided by Cassandra Campbell – she made the book come alive! I can’t imagine enjoying the print version of this book – I think I’d have found the recipes tedious and the lack of momentum would have led me to give up.

I’m not a fan of short stories and I’m afraid this book suffered from being more like a selection of short stories than a novel. The stories of each cookery student were very different and I had hoped everything would be brought together in the end, but I’m afraid they failed to link up and the book seemed to end quite abruptly.

I also found the book to be a bit overly sentimental and there were a few too many metaphors for my liking:

What did she do that made her happy? The question implied action, a conscious purpose. She did many things in a day, and many things made her happy, but that, Claire could tell, wasn’t the issue. Nor the only one, Claire realized. Because in order to consciously do something that made you happy, you’d have to know who you were. Trying to figure that out these days was like fishing on a lake on a moonless night–you had no idea what you would get.

Note: Trying to get a quote from an audio book is very hard, so I copied this quote from this wonderful quotes and passages blog.

A slightly amusing problem was caused by the fact this is an American book. Many foods have different names and although I knew most of them, there was a point when I wondered why she was decorating a cake with okra. It took me a few minutes to realise that Lady’s Fingers are something very different in America!!

Despite these criticisms it did inspire me to cook and on the whole I enjoyed listening to it.

Recommended to those interested in cookery.

I couldn’t find a negative review for this book:

I absolutely adored this book, and I’m going to be recommending it to everyone. Booking Mama

…if you’ve never read a food-related novel, this is where to start. A Reader’s Respite

Don’t read this book when you are hungry; it will probably be unbearable. S. Krishna’s Books

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  1. Verity says:

    How strange – I starte reading this in bed last night! It does seem more like short stories at the moment, but I’m curious about the characters and it’s an interesting premise.

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, I hope that you enjoy the rest of the book – I’ll be interested to know what you think of it.

      1. Verity says:

        I hope they do some baking. That crab didn’t appeal to me.

        1. Jackie says:

          Verity, Don’t worry – they do lots of baking.

          I thought the crab sounded great though :-)

  2. Hmm, the book sounds interesting but I’m not really one for short stories either. But a book about cooking… it could be a really nice book….

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, If you like cooking then I think this book is worth a try….

  3. sakura says:

    I would be really shocked if I found okra in my cake! That’s really funny. I haven’t really listened to many audiobooks although I keep meaning to try them.

    1. Jackie says:

      sakura, I’m sure some clever cooks can make a great cake containing okra, but decorating the edges with it?! The image I had in my head still makes me laugh.

  4. Beth F says:

    I can’t believe I haven’t read or listened to this one yet. I would love it. Too funny about the okra!!

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, There was massive hype for this one last year – amazing how quickly books come and go. I hope you enjoy it when you get round to it.

  5. Joanna says:

    This one’s patiently waiting on my shelf… Nice to see you liked it so much, I really liked the concept but it can always go either way, of course. And yes, I’m sure I’ll be hungry for most of it! :-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Joanna, I tried to only listen to this on a full stomach, but it didn’t work – it still made me hungry!

  6. That is a riot about the okra! I did like the book. When the author was touring it around when it first came out, she included a recipe from the book on each blog where she stopped. I saved the one for the wedding cake. If you do a search for old reviews, you’ll probably find the recipes if you are interested!

    1. Jackie says:

      rhapsodyinbooks, Thanks for letting me know about the recipes – I did a little googling and discovered that she has now listed all the recipes on her website here:
      I’m going to have to give some a try :-)

  7. I remember enjoying this one as a quick, pleasant read, but also thinking the metaphors were a bit overdone. It did make me want to get in the kitchen, though!

    1. Jackie says:

      Shelley, It sounds as though we had similar reactions to this one. Just thinking about it makes me hungry-I’m going to have to bake a cake tomorrow!

  8. Carolyn says:

    This is one book that I was ready to give a bad review to. Like you, the food descriptions were mouth-watering,, but I was disappointed in the end.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carolyn, It wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be, but I am still really pleased that I read it. If only things had been tied together in the end.

  9. Steph says:

    Well, I do like cooking, so this would probably be fun… Although I don’t necessarily care for short story collections either. That said, I don’t really mind if a narrative jumps from person to person where there are linking elements. This sounds like something I would enjoy, and since the audio is so good, maybe something I could listen to while knitting!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I think this would be perfect for knitting to, but I found it was best to cook while listening – if it is going to make you hungry then you might as well be surrounded by food while listening!

  10. Sandy says:

    I always get nervous when you review something I’ve recommended! Strange, because never in a million years would I have described this as a collection of short stories. I guess in a way it is, but the way it was presented, with all the students intermingling and interacting, I never felt like it cut off completely from one and moved on to another. The narrator is wonderful…she is the same one that narrated Henrietta Lacks.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Sorry for making you nervous! I think that the stories mingled in the beginning, but became increasingly separate as the book progressed. I’m pleased that I listened to this one. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  11. Lucy says:

    I quite often pick up books about food, only to find the food element of book is the only bit I enjoy. It sounds like this may be the same.

    And just to let you know I’ve tagged you over at my blog:

    1. Jackie says:

      Lucy, I haven’t read many food books, but I did enjoy the cookery elements of this book so I think I’ll have to seek out a few more.

  12. SEY says:

    Read this book over the summer, even though I could have listened, I WANTED to be able to reread the recipes because I love to cook. To me it flowed like the swirls of a perfect mouse – oops a simile and metaphor, sorry. But I do admit I was disappointed in the endings too. What happens to all these interesting people? However don’t most good books keep you guessing… All my nutritionist, foodie friends say it is genuine and as a teacher I know the relationship with students is most often short and sweet. It was a quick, wonderful read. Hope there’s more to come from Ms. Bauermeister, or else can I sign up for the classes – ha! Reminded me of Italy. Glad you recommended it!

  13. PBurt says:

    I thought this was a quick and easy read – something not to deep to give your mind a rest. It was pleasurable but not particularly memorable for me.


  14. stacybuckeye says:

    I won this in a giveaway. Now I need to findthe time to read it!


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