Seattleite's transformative journey begins at Le Cordon Bleu
Kathleen Flinn, author of "The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry: Love, Laughter and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School"...
Seattle Times Food staff
Kathleen Flinn, author of "The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry: Love, Laughter and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School" (Viking/Penguin, $24.95), has thought a lot about obits. As a fledgling journalist, she wrote more than her share.
But it was one in particular, small and seemingly insignificant, that held her attention. "Gladys Smith, 82, died Saturday at home. She was the wife of the late Harold Smith. She left no survivors."
Flinn was struck by the lack of details. "No services. No directions for flowers or donations as a clue to any interests or hobbies," she wrote. "Apparently no college education, no profession, no personal accomplishments. What had this woman done with her life?" She cut it out and tacked it up on her office bulletin board, right next to an ad for the famed Paris cooking school Le Cordon Bleu. The two pieces of paper served as constant reminders of the possibilities that lay before her.
The Seattle author is a hard-working woman with an easy grace — she makes things happen through sheer determination. Her book is a very personal memoir of transformation, as well as an insider's look at Le Cordon Bleu, the first of its kind. "I couldn't believe no one had written a book about the school before," she said in a recent interview.
It's already garnered national media attention, although it won't be in bookstores until tomorrow. But don't expect a harsh exposé in the style of Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential." The author has an obvious respect for the school and its chefs.
Attending Le Cordon Bleu was, after all, a lifelong dream. But it wasn't until Flinn was 36 that she first walked through its fabled doors. It was a circuitous route, and her life experiences had given her plenty of reasons to jump off the road.
The youngest of five siblings, she was just 13 when her adored father passed away from cancer. She found solace in the kitchen by feeding her grieving mother. "I wasn't a great cook, but I was a passionate one," she said.
She wanted to become a chef or a ballerina, "I couldn't decide which," she writes. Her mother quickly nixed both ideas. After receiving a degree in journalism, a series of newspaper and magazine positions, interspersed with the occasional odd job, she eventually landed a position in the mid-'90s at Microsoft as the founding restaurant producer for Sidewalk.com. When they were sold to Citysearch, she went to work for MSN.com in London, where she met her future husband, Mike Klozar.
As she worked her way up the corporate ladder, Flinn found less time to do the writing and producing that she loved. She had lost the balance in her life and was missing what she calls "the essential ingredient."
When the company downsized in 2003 and she found herself unemployed, Klozar encouraged her to pursue her dream at last. He provided a safety net of love and support by moving with her to Paris, putting his own career on hold.
Three weeks after applying to the school, she was in the classroom preparing duck à l'orange.
Flinn has a knack for drawing characters that are real and sympathetic. Her journalistic attention to detail, chronicled in a 600-page journal kept while a student in Paris, was a skill that served her well. She writes with candor and humor about the camaraderie of the international group of students and the interactions with the chefs.
Students had to prove themselves to the demanding taskmasters, and the curriculum could at times be brutal. Flinn's own limited French-speaking skills didn't help her initial relationship with the intimidating "Grey Chef." (Think of Gordon Ramsay wearing a tall toque.) On her first day of classes, he shouted at her: "Vous perdez votre temps!" ("You're wasting your time.")
But Flinn gutted it out, chopping, sautéing and whisking her way through the three levels necessary for earning a diplome de cuisine in 2005.
"The Sharper the Knife" includes more than two dozen recipes, many that are Flinn's own interpretations of the more labor-intensive dishes taught at the school.
Although the author worked on her book every day for a year, she's not about to rest on her laurels. Already in the works are her next two books, the first focusing on travel and cooking.
Flinn is sincere in her hopes that people will be inspired by the book's theme of transformation. "Cut the things out of your life that keep you from reaching your dream," she advises. "It doesn't matter if it's cooking or belly dancing."
CeCe Sullivan: email@example.com
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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