The birth of the idea began with the reporting of a death.
Kathleen Flinn, then 22 and beginning her career in journalism as an obituary clerk in Sarasota, Florida, typed her shortest obituary ever. â€˜Gladys Smith, 82, wife of the late Harold Smith, died Saturday in her home. She left no survivors.â€™ No services. No directions for flowers or donations. No apparent accomplishments.
â€˜Being an obituary clerk in Sarasota, that’s a busy job,â€™ Flinn now says with a laugh. But that brief obit made an impact on young Kathleen Flinn. It so happens she had a Gourmet magazine on her desk, open to a page with an ad that read, â€˜Study French cooking in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu.â€™ She started thinking about what might be included in her obituary when the time came. â€˜I thought, I’d like it if it said Ã¢â‚¬ËœShe also got a degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris’,” says Flinn, looking back.
That moment of reflection comes near the beginning of Kathleen Flinn’s memoir, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School. It’s a story about cooking, about living in Paris, but mostly, it’s about following one’s dream. That obituary moment serves as a foreshadowing of Flinn’s career…and life.
Even as a very little girl, she had been interested in cooking. But her professional path took her from newspaper journalist to a journey up the corporate ladder until one day, 14 years later, she was unceremoniously downsized from her high-powered job in London as the result of a merger.
Flinn had only told one other person about her Le Cordon Bleu aspirations. She had mentioned it once to her friend, Mike, a few years earlier. Now, in the wake of her job loss, Mike reminded her about it. With his encouragement, including his agreement to go with her to Paris, Flinn, now 36, decided to follow that dream to study at the world’s premier French cooking school.
What follows is a colorful culinary adventure as Flinn struggles with French cooking, French chefs and the French language. She garnishes nearly every chapter with personally chosen recipes that make it clear she is indeed an ardent food lover. (See recipe link below.)
Set in the romantic city of Paris, Flinn’s journey is part love story as well, chronicling the growth of her relationship with Mike and brimming with warmly told stories about student friends and kindly chefs (and not-so-kindly) who populate her book.
Her engrossing story reads like a novel, and by the end you’ll feel like you know this character from the book, Kathleen Flinn.
FOR DESSERT: AN INTERVIEW WITH KATHLEEN FLINN
Food Channel: If you hadn’t lost your London job in the corporate merger, do you think you would have made it to Le Cordon Bleu by now?
Kathleen Flinn: No, I’d probably still be there at that corporate job. So much of my identity was tied up in my job. Whatever current job title I had, that’s who I was. The book is definitely about cooking and living in Paris, but at the real heart of the book, it’s about identity. About finding out who I am.
FC: Do you think you might someday become a chef, or run a restaurant?
KF: I could never give up writing. That’s at the very core of who I am. I’m a little old to start work as a line cook in a restaurant. At 40, people start to either get out or move up into management positions, and I’ve already established I’m not management material (laughs).
FC: Was there much of a language barrier as you tried to learn French cooking from chefs who spoke little or no English?
KF: Well, I studied French pretty hard while I was over there. I got a lot better at it, as time progressed. I still feel kind of stupid when I’m speaking French, though. I feel like I have a different personality. I’m fairly articulate as a writer, using English. When I’m speaking French I feel like I’m talking like Tarzan. I…like…
FC: There’s a part in the book at a Thanksgiving dinner, when a French chef gets up and offers up a warm and generous toast to your cookingâ€”that must’ve been a nice moment for you.
KF: I get kind of verclempt talking about it now. It’s funny, though, it almost didn’t make it into the book. My mother and Mike, after reading the manuscript, both said, â€˜Where’s the Thanksgiving dinner story? You’ve got to put that in there.â€™ They were right.
FC: Now that you’re back in the States, do you do much classic French cooking at your home?
KF: I do some rustic French cooking. Some braising and things like Coq au Vin. I do cook more cleanly now. I clean up along the way as I cook. I used to make a huge mess in the kitchen when I cooked. No more. Another thing I learned at Le Cordon Bleu is, if you start with good ingredients, you don’t need to do that much to them. I actually cook more simply now. Oh, and I learned how to make a good omelet. I make a lot of omelets.
FC: Of the many recipes included in the book, do you have a favorite?
KF: Yes. The Lamb with White Beans. It was a recipe I was reading as I was waiting for Mike back when I first met him, and it was one of the first things I cooked for him. I can still remember him saying, â€˜Wow. And you can cook, too.â€™ It’s a nice memory.
Kathleen Flinn Now On Tour
For a list of Kathleen Flinn’s upcoming book tour appearances, you may visit KathleenFlinn.com.
Go to Kathleen Flinn’s recipe for Olive Marinated Grilled Lamb with White Beans.