Monday, June 24, 2013

Book review: The Sharper the Knife, the Less you Cry

I must recognize that Kathleen Flinn's (first) book: The Sharper the Knife, the Less you Cry took me a long time to finish. It might be considered both as an advantage and disadvantage of the book. I started to read it in March, probably, and ended up a couple of hours ago. Why this big gap, somehow unusual for someone like me easily reading a good book a day, if the time allows me?

Nothing to complain against the book: it is well written, with many interesting recipes (even though I would not be able to prepare more than 75% of them) and a lot of insights about the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school. Le Cordon Bleu, made up of chefs with similar CVs: early age trainings in small or big restaurants, followed by intensive work at Michelin restaurants, eventually ending up in teaching school because of burn-out, was created in the 19th century in...of course, Paris. It started as a cooking magazine started by Marthe Distel offering free cooking classes for subscribers. Nowadays, even though the magazine is no more since the 1960s, it has a wide network of around 27 schools in 15 countries. 

To be honest, I completely dislike the military-style of that famous and expensive school. As a chef by choice, I decided that I should discover how to cook - and this book showed me how far far away from the objective of being a decent chef - completely by pleasure. I don't want to be lectured, penalized and criticized - officially, as at home I am coping almost daily with various inappropriate observations in this respect - and even humiliated for my lack of achievement. Again, I do it completely for fun and if I would have to pay a lot of money for a fantastic cooking class where I am regularly ridiculed I would react in a very unpleasant way. Cooking is an art and not everyone has the qualities of a chef-from-birth, but I prefer to be treated respectfully and taught with love and attention. The logical conclusion is that in any case I will not want to be part of such a top notch project, preferring rather small cooking class of specific meals. Kathleen Flinn is more disciplined in this respect: "Cooking is a physical job; it requires strength, endurance, and the ability to do what you're told without complaint, even if you disagree". Not my piece of cake. 

I must confess though that I need to learn more about cutting the veggies correctly and being more dedicated in terms of following the directions of the recipes: "To be good food soldiers in the kitchen, we must be trained to follow orders, to produce consistent results. That's why we are drilled to cut our vegetables with the same military precision, to hit the same basic notes of flavor". As for me, I am rather the kind of person that strongly belief that 'sometimes, life doesn't follow the recipe, either'. Everyone with its own cooking style, isn't it?

The big advantage of the book that helped me not to feel guilty for keeping it half-read for month was the good writing style: honest, simple even when it has to do with complicated recipes, somehow impossible to translate from French. 

Beyond the stylistic challenges and considerations, I also appreciated as well the optimism that it is never late to start cooking. Especially this Julia Child's quote made me feel better about my previous failures: 'I didn't start cooking until I was 32. Until then, I just ate'. (It is also available for me, except the part with eating, as until 32 at least, I was not eating too much either). What awaits me and the late cooker in general, is a long journey of discovering which knife is the best, how to cut the meat and to have good sources at the meat market, or how to prepare the almost perfect pastry. 

The similar career patterns of the chefs is mirrored by the similar careers of the attendees: most of them, including Kathleen Flinn herself, left or are looking for a subterfuge of their corporate life and follow an old dream. The book is also an exploration of the local expat life, of coping with the difficulties of my beloved French language, as well as of life and love. As I am heading soon to Paris, I also found some interesting good travel tips and ideas to visit specific markets and corners. 

If you were looking for the inspiration for your next career steps this summer, you should read this book and carefully take notes of the recipes generously included at the end of each chapter.

The initial post was published on my foodie blog: