As the first class is set to run, we meet each of the new students; a young mum who is struggling to find her identity: a young girl who is looking for her place in the world; a man who is gradually emerging from his cocoon of grief: an older couple who are happy now but who haven't always been as together as they seem, an Italian immigrant who is looking for a sense of home; a computer geek who doesn't feel as though he fits in with his family and more.
Each week, the group comes together to learn new techniques but also to learn to be honest with themselves and to communicate with each other.
If you are looking for an overall plot to the book, there really isn't one. Each individuals story moves forward as we learn about what bought them to the cooking class, what they are struggling with and how the food that they are cooking and eating brings them to a new understanding and in some cases new beginnings. Effectively, these are a series of vignettes of the characters that are connected to the restaurant. Sometimes though, you don't necessarily need a lot of plot. Sometimes good characterisation is enough, and I would say that it is generally the case here. Each character is given the time and space to develop right before your eyes.
This is an easy read. The writing skips across the pages and before you know it you are at the end. It is a perfect Saturday afternoon book - a couple of hours easy and pleasant reading.
In terms of the stories, I think that the most profound as that of Tom. He was dealing with the grief of losing an important person in his life, and the portrayal of their illness and subsequent passing as treated with compassion, dignity and respect. Whilst his is not the only story that moved me, it is the one that has stayed with me the longest.
One of the best things about books like this are the food descriptions, and this book does not disappoint. There were a number of times that I was left drooling at the feast for all the senses that were described. One of my favourite chapters was where the group cooked a ... I guess the word is deconstructed... Thanksgiving dinner. Now, we don't do Thanksgiving but I have seen enough descriptions and posts about the food that is normally on the table, and so I recognised how even though the meal looked completely different, all the traditional elements were there.
Erica Bauermeister has a number of recipes on her website and also includes some details such as where her inspiration came from.
Not only did I want to eat the food that was mentioned in the book, but I also was left wishing that I could go to Lillian's cooking classes, or at the very least some cooking classes here. I suspect that the experience would be very different from that portrayed in the book but it would still be fun. Maybe one day.
I should also mention that this book has also been published under the title Monday Night Cooking School in some places
Once a month on Monday night, eight students gather in Lillian’s restaurant kitchen 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 one 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.
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