Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

Shhh, quiet! I see it, it's right down there. Do you see it? Why, it's the wild mid-week book review. My, are we lucky to see one of these. Increasingly rare, they can normally only be found curled up in a drawer or burrowed into a brain at this time of the week, but this one seems to be unusually brave. Now, if we're very stealthy, we may even be able to see its content!

That's right, folks. It's me. On a Wednesday. I'm dreadfully ill with what seems like the same horrible cold that afflicted me earlier this summer minus a nice long holiday weekend to recover (not that I'd rather ruin a nice holiday weekend with a cold, but it would be nice to able to get some extra rest!). And I'm very angry about it, when I can muster up enough energy for anger. I also feel awful that I've let this review go this long. I finished this book, well, a while ago, but I have high hopes that I will remember sufficient details to give it the attention it deserves.

Let's start with a confession. I'm not a huge reader of the "foodie memoir." Okay, I'm not at all a reader of the foodie memoir. I don't really know how to cook nor do I have a particular interest in learning. That said, it's probably not surprising that I started this book thinking that perhaps I lay slightly outside of its, uh, "target audience." Nonetheless, baited by its tantalizing cover art and the promise of "love, laughter, and tears," I dove in with reckless abandon and soon realized that The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry has a little something for everyone.

When Kathleen Flinn is fired from her corporate management job in London, she greets the news with relief and some trepidation. "What now?" she wonders. When she asks her soon-to-be husband Mike that question, without missing a beat, he reminds her of her dream to study cooking at the famous French cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu. She hardly considers that it would be possible for her to pursue the dream she'd cultivated throughout her life, but pops by Le Cordon Bleu's website just the same - just looking, of course. Soon, with Mike's promise that he will join her in Paris, Kathleen has donned the uniform of a Le Cordon Bleu student and is studying among an ethnic melting pot of would-be chefs.

In The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry, Flinn goes on to chronicle the time she spent in Paris pursuing her long-neglected dream. Her descriptions capture the rich atmosphere and cultural quirks of Paris. Each of the famous and demanding chefs that serve as her class's teachers are brought vividly to life, including the terrifying Gray Chef who is infamous for making students, including Kathleen, cry with his angry critiques of poorly prepared cuisine - yet, who also succeeds in making his students into stronger, more capable chefs. Each chapter ends with a recipe, which might be of interest to those more interested in the food aspect of things, but I usually skipped over in my rush to get to the next chapter. Flinn also attempts to draw life lessons out of her experiences in the kitchen which fail and succeed in equal measure with some flowing easily into natural conclusions and others seeming to be forced just for the sake of including a life lesson.

With its detailed descriptions of chopping, filleting, and boning, the food talk tended to get a little boring, but that could be chalked up to my own lack of interest in such things. Flinn's amusing and revealing stories of Le Cordon Bleu, its students, and life in Paris more than make up for any lulls while she sautes and kneads her way to a Le Cordon Bleu degree. The bittersweet portion about her graduation beautifully captures the difficult contrast between achieving a goal and knowing that doing so will end one of life's better chapters. All in all, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry is a delicious read about a woman who dared to follow her dream and lives up to its promise of "love, laughter, and tears."

1 comment:

  1. Hmm. I don't read foodie memoirs either, even though I like to cook, but this one sounds kinda good. I hope you feel better soon!