Book Club Discussion: The School of Essential Ingredients

Welcome to the Book Club discussion for The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister. Below is a list of discussion questions to get the conversation started. We are excited to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. We’ve added our thoughts for each question as well. Feel free to answer all the questions, or pick and choose a few questions to discuss!

When Claire first walks into Lillian’s, she reflects: “When was the last time she had been someplace where no one knew who she was?” Is the anonymity of the kitchen a lure for Lillian’s students?

I think a lot of the students realize the anonymity of the kitchen once they go to the class for the first time. They are all put in a different than normal situation by working with a small group of people from different background that they don’t know at all. In a way it gives them a fresh start.

As a general rule, Lillian doesn’t give her students recipes. Why do you think she does this? What are the pros and cons of this approach to cooking?

Without having a recipe, you are forced to be creative. You are able to try different ideas and ingredients without worrying about doing something wrong. You have more freedom.

Each of the character’s stories centers on a dish or an ingredient that has a profound effect upon how they see themselves or the world. What connections do you see between Claire and the crabs? Between Chloe and tortillas? Tom and the pasta sauce? 

The crabs show Claire that she could conquer something on her own. Chloe helps to make the tortillas from scratch and molds them in her hands. Shortly after the tortillas she takes control of her own life.

At the end of the novel, Lillian reflects that: “She saw how connected [the students’] lives had become and would remain. Where did a teacher fit in the picture, she wondered, when there was no longer a class?” What does happen to Lillian once her class is disbanded? Do you feel that each character’s story is resolved? What do you imagine happens in these characters’ lives after the book ends?

Once the class is disbanded Lillian will probably begin another class and they will all learn things together inside and out of the kitchen like this class did. The character’s stories were not necessarily resolved but each character learned something through the class that changed their outlook on something in their lives that they will use outside of the class.

Questions from author’s website.

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