The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World's Most Famous Cooking School [NOOK Book]

Overview

The prequel to Kathleen Flinn's unforgettable account of her French culinary adventures - Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good - is available this August!

Kathleen Flinn was a thirty-six-year-old middle manager trapped on the corporate ladder - until her boss eliminated her job. Instead of sulking, she took the opportunity to check out of the rat race for good - cashing in ...
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The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World's Most Famous Cooking School

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Overview

The prequel to Kathleen Flinn's unforgettable account of her French culinary adventures - Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good - is available this August!

Kathleen Flinn was a thirty-six-year-old middle manager trapped on the corporate ladder - until her boss eliminated her job. Instead of sulking, she took the opportunity to check out of the rat race for good - cashing in her savings, moving to Paris, and landing a spot at the venerable Le Cordon Blue cooking school.

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry is the funny and inspiring account of her struggle in a stew of hot-tempered, chefs, competitive classmates, her own "wretchedly inadequate" French - and how she mastered the basics of French cuisine. Filled with rich, sensual details of her time in the kitchen - the ingredients, cooking techniques, wine, and more than two dozen recipes - and the vibrant sights and sounds of the markets, shops, and avenues of Paris, it is also a journey of self-discovery, transformation, and, ultimately, love. 
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

When the author, an American journalist and software executive working in London, is sacked from her high-powered job, she enrolls as a student at the Cordon Bleu school in Paris. With limited cooking skills and grasp of the French language, she gamely attempts to master the school's challenging curriculum of traditional French cuisine. As if she didn't have enough on her plate eviscerating fish and knocking out pâtéà choux, she determines to write a book about her experience and gets married along the way. The result is a readable if sentimental chronicle of that year in Paris in which her love life is explored in great detail, dirty weekends and all, and cooking features as a metaphor for self-discovery. Some readers may feel disappointed that the narrator's encounters with French cookery remain largely confined to her lessons at the Cordon Bleu. On those rare occasions when she ventures into the food-obsessed city, the descriptions of meals are glancing at best. Although her struggles with the language and lack of knowledge about the culture lend comic elements to the story (once, trying to order a pizza over the phone, she said, "Je suis une pizza"-I am a pizza), they, too, constrain the author's culinary explorations. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
This tasty offering . . . seems destined to earn an honored place on the crowded bookshelves of many foodie readers.
Kirkus Reviews
An American expatriate follows her dream to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. When 36-year-old software executive Flinn got fired in 2003, she was faced with a choice: She could look for another job or pursue her passion. Actually, it's two passions: cooking, and a man. While a corporate wage-slave, she feared making a commitment to Mike back in Seattle. Now unemployed, single and with no country to call home, nothing held her back. She called Mike, drained her savings, moved with him to Paris and started classes. Part memoir, part insider's look at the famed culinary institute where the world's elite chefs have been trained in the art of French haute cuisine, the text takes the form of chronological chapters interweaving lessons learned at the school with lessons learned about life. We meet characters both eccentric and multicultural, from the seemingly bipolar Gray Chef to a roster of far-flung classmates. The range of students from Europe, America, South America, Asia and the Middle East makes it apparent that French cuisine is now global, but Flinn merely touches on that theme. It's not the only potentially fascinating topic she scants; she barely seems to notice that Paris now competes with London, formerly the butt of many jokes about bad food, as the home of superlative dining. Instead, Flinn attempts to use cooking as a life metaphor, a dicey tactic when your personal revelations mostly resemble outtakes from Sex and the City. The book is best when she sticks to cooking, France's culinary history, diverse regional traditions and the challenges of meeting the impeccable standards of Le Cordon Bleu's demanding chefs. A fascinating look inside a famed elite institution, unnecessarilygarnished with lackluster autobiography. Agent: Larry Weissman/Larry Weissman, LLC
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781440638190
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/2/2008
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 96,830
  • File size: 483 KB

Meet the Author

Kathleen Flinn
Kathleen Flinn has been a writer and journalist for nearly twenty years. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, USA Weekend, Men’s Fitness and many other publications. She is a proud member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Author’s Guild. She divides her time between Seattle and southwest Florida.
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Table of Contents


Author's Note     ix
Prologue: This Is Not for Pretend     1
Basic Cuisine     5
Life Is Not a Dress Rehearsal     7
Lost in Translation     17
Culinary Boot Camp     25
Taking Stock     35
Memoirs of a Quiche     46
La Vie en Rose     56
No Bones About It     66
Splitting Hares     74
The Souffle Also Rises     83
As the Vegetables Turn     92
Final Exam-Basic     103
Intermediate Cuisine     113
Class Break: Spain     115
C'est la Vie, C'est la Guerre     118
A Week in Provence     128
Rites of Passage     134
The Silence of the Lamb     143
"I Am a Pizza for Kathleen"     150
A Sauce Thicker Than Blood     158
La Catastrophe Americaine     164
Bon Travail     171
Final exam-Intermediate     177
Superior Cuisine     183
Class Break: Normandy, then America     185
Back in Bleu     189
Great Expectations     202
Gods, Monsters, and Slaves     211
LaDanse     220
Bye-bye, Lobster     231
I Didn't Always Hate My Job     243
An American Hospital in Paris     249
Final Exam-Superior     259
Epilogue: Thanksgiving in Paris     271
Extra Recipes     275
Acknowledgments     279
Selected Bibliography     281
Index of Recipes     283
Menu Guide for Book Clubs     286
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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
In 2003, Kathleen Flinn, a thirty-six-year-old American living in London, returned from vacation to find that her corporate job had been eliminated. Ignoring her mother’s concern that she get another job immediately or “never get hired anywhere ever again,” Flinn instead cleared out her savings and moved to Paris to pursue a dream—a diploma from the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry is the touching account of Flinn’s transformation as she moves through the school’s intense program and falls deeply in love along the way. Through the story of her time at Le Cordon Bleu, Flinn offers a vibrant portrait of Paris, one in which the sights and sounds of the city’s street markets and purveyors come alive in rich detail. Interwoven throughout are more than two dozen recipes, many of the same recipes Flinn was instructed to master amid battles with demanding chefs, competitive classmates, and her “wretchedly inadequate” French.

ABOUT KATHLEEN FLINN

Kathleen Flinn has been a writer and journalist for twenty years. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, Smithsonian, USA Weekend, Playboy, Men’s Fitness, and Canada’s The Globe and Mail, among many other publications. She was the inaugural food and restaurants editor for Sidewalk.com, Microsoft’s series of city guides that later merged with Citysearch, and later went on to direct editorial coverage for MSN in the United Kingdom, based in London. She divides her time between Seattle, Washington, and Anna Maria Island, Florida.

A CONVERSATION WITH KATHLEEN FLINN

Q. You share some intimate details in the book. How did you decide what was too private and what wasn’t? Has anyone disagreed with what you wrote about them or an event? Did anyone not want to be mentioned at all?

Most memoir writers will tell you that the hardest part of writing a memoir isn’t what to include, but what to leave out. I was a bit unprepared for it. During my journalism career, I never had to debate whether to include that I broke a bed with a lover in a story. (Mike wanted me to leave this out, but I felt like it said everything that needed to be said about our relationship, so I left it in.) An editor rejected an early draft of my book proposal, commenting that “the main character isn’t likable on the page.” Of course, that was me. I’d never thought of myself as a character that had to be developed. Shifting my thinking, I realized that I had to be brutally honest or I wouldn’t be a believable character. So I had to include stupid things I said or did, emotional reactions that I might be embarrassed by otherwise. That was sometimes tough.

As I was writing the book, I contacted many of my fellow students and let them read the sections I’d written about them. Everyone reacted differently. Some insisted that I use their real names, while others did not. Memory is fallible; a few remembered things differently. I tried hard to be fair and accurate with scenes, and to be sensitive to what I revealed about other people. After all, they unwittingly became characters in a public play for which they never auditioned.

Q. The French are known for being rude, and yet you went out of your way to show how you didn’t really experience that. Why do you think the French have that reputation?

Americans and French are notoriously monolingual, especially earlier generations. Language is a sense of pride in both cultures. I think that the French and Americans are like brothers or sisters who are so similar that they irritate one another. If an American were approached by someone from another country who just started asking questions in his or her native language, they’d be irritated. From both their perspectives, I think the cultural clash begins with “You’re in my country, speak my language!”

Q. Did you realize you were writing an inspirational book at the time?

Who thinks their life is inspirational when they’re living it? I was finished with school, back in the United States and writing every day in a windowless cubicle. I’d been writing for two months when I realized that by starting chapter one with the first day of school, I’d begun the story in the wrong place. So, in one day, I wrote the first chapter, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.” Without that chapter, the story lacked the context of the short obituary, my father’s death, or my sister’s longing to attend the Sorbonne. It was not part of the original plan for the book, and once I wrote that, I realized that the book was not about cooking school, but about identity.

Q. How has Le Cordon Bleu responded to your book?

Everyone in their organization has been incredibly gracious. André Cointreau, the owner of Le Cordon Bleu, has even given the book as gifts. I was worried about their reaction, particularly since Le Cordon Bleu is not presented as a perfect place. I started to work on the book after I started Basic Cuisine and sold it while I was still in school. In a way, I felt like a culinary spy as I never told Le Cordon Bleu about the book while I was a student there. In October 2006, when I’d finished the manuscript, I flew to Paris and sat down with the lead administrators. They were nervous, thinking perhaps I’d written an exposé. But halfway through, one of them said, “Oh, it is love story!” Once they got that, they were on board.

Q. The day that you ran across the short obituary about the eighty-four-year-old woman seems like a signal moment to you. Why did it have such an impact?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but writing obituaries was one of best jobs that I’ve ever had. After all, it’s the only time that someone will ever laminate my work and put it in their Bible. Plus, let’s be honest, writing obits in Sarasota is a very busy job. The old saying was that old people lived in Miami, but their parents lived in Sarasota. That one stood out for its stark brevity, and honestly, it scared me. There I was, twenty-three-years-old with my life ahead of me—but that through inertia, fear, or simply bad luck, it was possible to come to life’s final tally with nothing to say. But later in the book, I comment that maybe that woman lived a contented, full life—just not one that could be easily summed up with a list of memberships or achievements. She had no survivors that the paper’s regimented form and guidelines would recognize, but perhaps she had a wealth of friends. Sometimes, it’s all in the way things get measured.

Q. How did your journalism background inform your actions while attending LCB?

In many ways, journalism school and culinary school are quite similar. They both teach fundamental skills and habits, but ultimately you learn through on-the-job training. Early in my career, I got in the habit to keep an ear out for good quotes, and an eye out for characters and telling details. I am a meticulous note taker. In school, I kept a journal covering everything from experiences in the kitchen to conversations that I had with fellow students. This background is what made me decide not to tell the school about the book. I wanted to be treated the same as everyone else because the reporter in me thought that would make a better story.

Q. There’s a black and white photo in the front of the book. Where and when was this photo taken?

My husband Mike took the photo in May 2004. I’m sitting at the kitchen window of our apartment on Rue Etienne Marcel. I’ve always liked that image. To me, it captures a moment in time. It was shortly before the end of Intermediate Cuisine, after I’d won over the Gray Chef, but before we were married. I remember looking out the window and marveling how much my life had changed in such a short time.

Q. Some of the most memorable scenes involve butchering meat and gruesome preparations. How has your reader response been to that aspect of cooking?

Some people react strongly. Learning to break down large pieces of meat, bone poultry, and work with small birds had a profound effect on me. At one point, I call myself a “monster.” I had been a vegetarian at one point in my life, and I found it all a grim process. This may explain why I went into so much detail about it in the book. It was a valuable lesson, one that made me respect meat and poultry in a way that I didn’t before I went to school. I wanted to share this with people to remind them what they’re eating—it’s easy to forget what you’re eating when it comes boneless and packaged in plastic. Right now, I’m in the process of buying a cow directly from an organic farmer. I want to reward people who treat animals well. I buy most of my beef from butchers I trust because I just don’t know what could be lurking in a supermarket steak anymore.

Q. You mention that LCB wasn’t what you imagined. What was the most surprising thing about that institution for you, besides the lack of a proper view of Paris?

Honestly what surprised me the most? The school has electric stoves, not gas.

Q. You’ve been writing about food for several years. Has the way you write about it changed since attending Le Cordon Bleu?

I learned two critical things—the language of the kitchen and the influence of technique. I can talk to chefs using their language, and that’s critical to writing about food in a more informed way. I also can look at a plate and understand what’s gone into it, the process behind it. I couldn’t do that as confidently before. I’ve learned some of the magician’s tricks.

Q. Have you kept in touch with your LCB classmates?

Yes, and hopefully that will be the subject of another book. I e-mail regularly with Lely and Sharon and spend time in L.A. with my good friend Karina (known in the book as Isabella). My friend Juliana, “Jovina” in the book, now lives in Chicago with her husband. In the end, he arrived safely home from Iraq. There are a few student friends who didn’t make it into the book, and I see them frequently, too.

Q. Food memoirs seem to be everywhere now. Why do you think people are so interested?

The famed seventeenth-century epicure Brillat-Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are.” That statement is at the heart of all food memoirs. We all eat; it’s a universal experience. Yet, we all have different experiences, with our food habits and traditions defining our cultures and personalities. Most successful memoirs that deal with food use it as a metaphor or as a way to tell a larger story with a broad message. Also, so many people read cookbooks not necessarily to cook from, but for entertaining. Food memoirs seem like a logical extension of that.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • The book deals with a lot of memorable food moments. What scene stood out for you and why? What is the best meal you ever had? Is a great meal only about food? What else is involved?
     
  • Ultimately, Sharper is about more than food. The author stated in an interview that “while it’s about Paris and cooking, ultimately it’s a story about identity and defying convention.” How did the author’s identity change through the course of the book? Have you had a similar chance to defy convention? How did it turn out?
     
  • The city of Paris is a major character in the book. The city and the French in general play a peculiar role in the imagination of Americans. What are some of the perceptions Americans have of the city and the people? Did the author feed the stereotypes or try to dissuade common perceptions?
     
  • Normandy is a theme in the book, discussed in both the food and the World War II battle. Why do you think the author chose to draw this connection? What are some of the other themes in the book?
     
  • A short obituary had a great impact on the author. Thinking ahead to your own obit, how would you want it to read? If you could change your life, would you do so and in what way?
     
  • Le Cordon Bleu wasn’t what the author expected. Describe one of your dreams that had a disappointing reality.
     
  • The title of the book is taken from a French chef’s tip about chopping onions, but the author has described it as a metaphor for life. How do you interpret the title?
     
  • The author’s boyfriend puts his life on hold to allow her to follow her dreams at Le Cordon Bleu. Would you be willing to change your entire life for someone? What would you be willing to do for love? Have you ever had that opportunity?
     
  • The Gray Chef was hard on the author, but ultimately she realizes his criticism is for her benefit. Who is your hardest critic and have you ever had a chance to impress that person? How do you respond to criticism?
     
  • In Superior Cuisine, the author says she understands Margot because they have similar corporate backgrounds. However, once the author was out of the corporate environment, she viewed it differently and realized her values had shifted. How does environment change identity and values?
     
  • How did childhood affect the author’s desire to go to Le Cordon Bleu? Can you trace back events in your childhood that informed your career choice as an adult?
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 5, 2009

    "Live your life the way it's meant to be lived."

    The author closes her book with this line and it's true, and a lesson she learned along the way. Her story is one I can relate to since I went back to culinary school a few years after being out of college and found I hated being stuck behind a desk all day. The book is just a fun read about love, finding yourself and achieving your dream. It is hard working in a professional kitchen, as she learned it school, but it certainly is rewarding. Great recipes too!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 30, 2009

    A 'life change' with food....what a yummy book!

    So far, besides me, my husband, our 20-something daughter, and one of my husband's male buddies have read this book, and we ALL loved it! I should note first that we all love to cook complex recipes and eat fabulous food. And, because of that, it may be that we all loved the book for it's lessons on better cooking steps, intriguing preparations and great recipes. (We highly recommend that readers read the recipes completely as they appear in the book---don't leave them until the end. They help you understand what is happening in the cooking classes as you go along.) The story about a 30-something business woman chucking it all to go to school at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris is a tantalizing fantasy for anyone who loves to cook. We're all jealous! But her telling of the story is more than just a recount of her experiences at the school. It's about changing, learning, growing, accepting and embracing life---and all while describing the making and devouring of delicious foods! There's a very sweet love story, tales of friendship, competition among students, mean and harassing instructor/chefs, fear of failure, and achieving success all wrapped up in the writer's lively telling of her diversion from 'real life' into her life's fantasy. We have decided that this book will not reside in our library, but will stand on our kitchen cookbook shelf so we can pull it out often to try the many incredible-sounding recipes found within. What a yummy little book this is!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2009

    Good Book

    I really enjoyed this book. It is a quick and easy read. It describes her struggles and joys while attending the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. I would recommend this book if you love reading about Paris and cooking.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

    A true culinary adventure--full of fun

    I loved the telling of this culinary experience at Le Cordon Bleu. It was funny, romantic, enlightening, and I love having some of the recipes included. I love Paris, and this is a great way to "take yourself there," especially if you like to cook. Enjoyable to read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2013

    I am a chef, graduate of a Le Cordon Bleu school in America. I

    I am a chef, graduate of a Le Cordon Bleu school in America. I was given a copy of this book a few years ago by an employee who worked under me. I laughed and cried and sighed my way through this book. It brought back a lot of memories. In looking at the dates, we were in school about the same time. I'm now getting a copy for a niece who is in culinary school realizing her dreams. I thought about sending her my worn out falling apart book but can't bear to part with it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2012

    A great read and a great lesson about pursuing your passions in

    A great read and a great lesson about pursuing your passions in life. I am a foodie and love to cook, but I'm pretty sure Le Cordon Bleu is way beyond me!! Kudos to Kathleen Flinn for following her dream and sticking with it. She's an excellent storyteller who has woven a wonderful tale of love, adventure, laughter, and tears. Have recommended it to all my "reader friends!"

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 6, 2009

    Really enjoyable reading, well written and humorous.

    A great book for anyone who has ever considered attending the famous Cordon Bleau cooking school in Paris. The book is well written and enjoyable to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Enjoyable read

    This book is great for anyone who has a passion for cooking or just a passion that they have yet to pursue. It is filled with recipes and culinary information. It also tells a sweet love story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2009

    for the aspiring chef!

    This was an excellent and absorbing book, expecially for a self taught gourmet cook with aspirations to learn more. It was also poignant, funny, and entertaining at different moments. I have given several copies to friends already. I highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2008

    I loved this book

    This book is one my favorites from the past couple of years. I have now read it twice. The story starts when the author came back from vacation to find that she had lost her job -- one that she was unhappy in but could not find the resolve the quit. Almost on a whim, she cashes in her savings to attend Le Cordon Bleu, the famous culinary school in Paris. Her new boyfriend quits his job in Seattle to go with her and the result is a romantic, inspirational story about what can happen when you follow your passions. <BR/><BR/>The author is a great storyteller and draws a reader into her daily life in Paris, the difficulties and the joy of studying French cuisine at a high level and the many intriging characters that she meets along the way. She also weaves in about three dozen recipes, mostly French. In the paperback, she has a menu guide for book clubs. My book club read this title in October and the guide was very useful. <BR/><BR/>I have given this book to several people, and they have all loved it. It's sort of got it all -- Paris, food, love -- but at the heart of the story is the issue of what's important in life, and how we all keep thinking that we'll do something "one day." It's truly inspirational.<BR/> <BR/>I read recently that it is being turned into a movie. when you read it, you'll see why.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2011

    Fun Read

    I enjoyed this book start to finish. As a bonus, there are recipes throughout.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Funny and touching

    Has some very funny parts. An enjoyable read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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