I just finished reading "The School of Essential Ingredients" by Erica Bauermeister and have to say it was one of the best books I've ever read.
For a novel, it's relatively short - only 240 pages - so it's a quick read. But what a read. It is sensual without being sexual, evocative, well-written, and well-edited. The imagery is incredible. The characters are brought to life with such skill, that you feel as though you really know them.
At its most basic level, the story is about a woman who owns a restaurant and gives small cooking classes. This story is about the people in one of those classes. Each chapter is about a different person; about their lives, their hopes and dreams, and their foibles. But it is so much more than that. It is about how we relate to each other and to ourselves. It is about spice, not just in the kitchen, but in our lives, and how even the most subtle of flavors can have importance.
While a the book centers around cooking, and all of the imagery is food-based, it is is not a cookbook. As you read, you will taste and smell and feel the ingredients that are brought together to form the whole and how the characters relate to them. The book is not a genre book. There's romance, but it's not a romance novel. There's a little bit of fantasy, but it is definitely not a paranormal story. There's a little bit of intrigue, but no mystery. It's just a really good book that needs to be read.
If you know anything about cooking, do yourself a favor and pick up The School of Essential Ingredients. You won't be sorry.