Book Review: The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry

We wanted to love this book, really we did! But when we turned the last page and sat back in our chair, we found ourselves left with some mixed reactions.

It was the title that initially drew us in--we're eager for more onion-crying cures, after all! But it was this memoir's intriguing subtitle that got us to pick the book off the shelf: "Love, Laughter, Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School." The first few pages reveal that author Kathleen Flinn is in her mid-30's, just quit/was fired from her corporate job, and has decided to pursue her childhood dream of graduating from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Haven't we all had a dream like this at some point? (Ok, minus the getting fired part!)

So why the mixed reactions? Read on...

We went into this book expecting an insider's look at one of the world's most renowned culinary schools and a provocative exploration of what it means start a new career at a point when most people are getting settled into theirs. Maybe with some good wit and clever observations thrown into the mix. Instead, what we got was, well, a marshmallow Peep: wonderfully sweet, but ultimately unsatisfying.

We wish that Flinn had struck a better balance between her stories of culinary school and her relationship with her boyfriend (ultimately her husband). We can see that she tried to connect the two by paralleling her struggles at Le Cordon Bleu with her anxieties over her new relationship, but it often felt contrived.

Flinn has true moments of strife, like wrestling with the competitive nature of culinary school and dealing with her husband's serious accident so soon after their marriage. But ultimately, these stories and others felt like our high school diaries--superficial and rather theatrical.

We enjoyed reading about the progression of classes and techniques, but felt that Flinn's true transformation from curious food lover to chef was lost in descriptions of classroom drama and gossip. All of the chef-instructors are initially intimidating and fierce, but are revealed as tender-hearted sweeties by the end of the book. It's unclear why many of her classmates are attending the school: scenes of students crowding around the chefs' demonstration table to snap pictures and confronting raw meat with squeamish disgust make the Cordon Bleu sound more like a tourist destination than a respected culinary institute.

We didn't find ourselves very inspired by the recipes Flinn included at the end of every chapter. Some of them come from her coursework at Le Cordon Bleu and others are snapshots of her meals in Paris, but none of the recipes represent anything very interesting or original. While it's not always about just what's new and exciting, we still feel that recipes like French onion soup and beef braised in red wine have been done better elsewhere.

This is the perfect read for a lazy afternoon on the couch. It's light and amusing, and Flinn's adventures kept us entertained. But if you want something with real substance that will stay with you long after you close the book, it might be best to look elsewhere.

(Photo Credit: Penguin Group, USA)

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