Part cookbook, part memoir, part quirky romance, Kathleen Flinn‘s newly released The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears and the World’s Most Famous Cooking School (Viking, 2007) has it all. There’s good wine, plenty of bloodshed and more than one wedding. Oh, and part of the text is in French, for good measure.
But, while other all-encompassing personal narrative-turned-how-to books can be accused of over reaching, Flinn’s friendly, well-crafted tale works. Likely this is due to her many years as a journalist (in fact, throughout the book she refers to herself as such, despite having left behind her career).
Here’s the deal: When Flinn, an American then living in London, was fired from a corporate job she didn’t like that much anyway, she decided to take the between jobs opportunity to pursue a life-long passion: cooking. And she didn’t go about it half-heartedly. Flinn sunk her savings into a diploma course at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. As in France.
“My parents viewed it as an overzealous game of tea,” Flinn writes of her childhood culinary infatuation in Sharper‘s opening pages. But Le Cordon Bleu was no Easy Bake Oven. The three-part course involved long hours of French-language instruction from surly master chefs and then more hours logged in hot kitchens perfecting sauces, vegetable chopping and filleting techniques.
“As of today, I have gutted a couple dozen fish, boned a beef shoulder as big as my head, and ripped the tendons out of a guinea fowl with a soup ladle,” she reveals at one point. Turns out, French cuisine is a brutal and sometimes stomach-turning endeavor, which Flinn often turns into comedy.
“… the eating public consumes every part of a cow or pig with delight — and often with a cream sauce,” she quips to her readers.
Flinn completed her course not with the intention to write a book, but to prove to herself that she could (like her hero, Julia Child). She explains in the book’s forward that she did keep an extensive journal during the time she and her husband spent in Paris, as well as pages of notes and audio tapes culled from her classes. The end result is something less glamorous than what the name Le Cordon Bleu calls to mind (“He puts the extracted fish eyes on the ends of his fingers and holds them up to the crowd like a puppet as he smiles and singsongs, ‘Allo, allo, Monsieur Poisson,’” Flinn recalls of one Chef) but Sharper is that much warmer for its very human telling.
At 274 pages plus recipes, it’s a fairly slim read that flies by. However, anyone fond of food, travel, and things French will find plenty to enjoy in this book.
Kathleen Flinn reads from The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry at Malaprop’s on Friday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m. Info at 254-6734.
Alli Marshall, A&E reporter