The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry is a riveting memoir of one woman’s journey through the hallowed kitchens of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Fresh from a corporate layoff in her London office, Kathleen Flinn chases her childhood dream to attend Le Cordon Bleu, encouraged by then-boyfriend Mike. Kathleen’s love for cooking came as a result of necessity: after her father’s early death from cancer when Kathleen was a teenager, she took over cooking for her family, eventually exploring the works of Julia Child and other cuisines. As an adult, her job in journalism allowed her to dabble in food writing and to indulge her love of restaurants, cooking, and food around the globe (including a brush with food poisoning from undercooked pig kidneys in China).
Kathleen’s witty observations of Cordon Bleu demonstrations and classes are culled from 600 pages of personal notes, 120 hours of audio recordings, and selections from the 300-plus recipes in the Cordon Bleu curriculum, so readers are instantly immersed into the grueling world of elite chefdom, including less appetizing ventures such as gutting fish, removing tendons and glands from chickens and guinea fowl, beheading rabbits, and chopping live lobsters in half (this book is definitely NOT for the squeamish). However, such visions are tempered by sweeter notes, including puff pastry and delicate sauces described in detail.
Kathleen describes her new friends and classmates in detail, along with her continuing explorations of Paris and her struggles to improve her rusty French. One of the book’s most touching moments involves a visit from her sister, who had planned on studying at the Sorbonne but gave up her place (and her dreams of studying in France) when their father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Small moments of everyday Parisian life provide a pleasant counterpart to break up the monotony of daily classes. Other domestic affairs include Kathleen’s new relationship, a visit from annoying houseguests, and several medical emergencies.
The Sharper Your Knife includes many of the recipes alluded to in the text, and the back of the book thoughtfully includes a recipe index for faster retrieval. Traditional selections include Beef Braised in Red Wine, Chicken Cordon Bleu (which has no affiliation with the school), Rabbit or Chicken with Mustard Sauce, Chocolate Souffle, and Duck With Orange Sauce. Some of the author’s personal favorites include Minestrone Soup, Gumbo from Paris, and Banana and Nutella Crepes.