The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn (2007)
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Penguin Books, the publisher. But I had already been eyeing the book at Amazon, so of course I jumped at the offer.
When Kathleen Flinn is unceremoniously fired from her corporate management job in London, she decides — after much hand-wringing — to cash in her savings and persue her dream of studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. This memoir chronicles her experiences at the world’s most famous cooking school, and gives us readers the opportunity to live her dream vicariously.
I thoroughly enjoyed Flinn’s account of her time at Le Cordon Bleu and as an American living in Paris. I especially relished the descriptions of her triumphs and travails in the cramped Le Cordon Bleu kitchens, cooking dishes I probably never will: deep-frying grapes; mastering puff pastry; stewing coq au vin with rooster’s blood. Each chapter’s subtitle alerts us to the lessons that will be learned — cooking lessons mixed with life lessons. At the end of each chapter, Flinn provides a more accessible recipe based on those lessons — although not necessarily a Cordon Bleu dish — for us to try.
My only criticism of this book is that I wanted more, especially more of Le Cordon Bleu, the charming chefs who teach there and Flinn’s attempts to cook — and finally master — the ridiculously complicated dishes of French haute cuisine. Some of the writing felt rushed, and I often wished Flinn would slow down a bit so we can really savor her experiences. After all, this is a fantasy most of us will never realize. Reading about it is as close as we will get.
But overall, I felt like I was vicariously living Flinn’s dream through her memoir. And I admire her for persuing her dream, despite all the risks involved, including the real possibility of failure. My dreams may be different, but Flinn’s ultimate success and real satisfaction in going for hers inspired me. As she says in Chapter 1, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”
Highly recommended: The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry (Amazon)