The Kitchen Reader: The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry

by Stacy

The February selection for The Kitchen Reader book club was The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears in Paris at the World’s Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn, chosen by me!

Yes, this review is a month late. I blame the extremely time-consuming task of snuggling this baby.

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry chronicles the author’s journey to fulfill her dream of attending Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, the world’s most famous cooking school. I’ve met Kathleen Flinn at some blogging conferences and have enjoyed her writing presentations, so it was fun to finally read her book.

“My grandmother had a saying: ‘Every woman should get herself two things: a good husband and a good set of knives.’ Bad husbands aren’t worth the trouble, and cheap knives aren’t worth the purchase.”

Flinn is living in London working at a corporate job she doesn’t love. Opportunity knocks when she arrives back at work from a vacation and is laid off a few hours later. At loose ends, unable to stay in England on her work visa, she uses her savings to enroll in culinary school in Paris.

She chops, cooks, and cries her way through the experience and brings us along for the ride. I assumed the title referred to sharp knives hurting less if you cut yourself, but it’s actually a quotation from one of the instructors about slicing onions: a sharp knife cuts more cleanly and breaks open fewer cells that release tear-causing gas. Flinn does include a number of recipes, but I skipped most of them since they were meat-heavy.

The story is less about cooking and more about relationships and personal growth. I enjoyed learning how the students interacted, sometimes re-plating a dish to help another student, and hearing why they had chosen to attend the school. The instructor who made her cry later became her greatest cheerleader; he pushed her to do her best. And the book also tracks her relationship and eventual marriage to Mike, the one who encouraged her to attend the school in the first place.

My takeaway from the book wasn’t so much about Flinn’s cooking skills, the dishes she made, or even the ups and downs of her experiences. Another student points out that “Everyone learns something different at Le Cordon Bleu,” and Flinn learned more than how to cook. An experience like hers – moving to another country, struggling to communicate, and challenging herself to learn new skills – taught her the most about herself.

“I amassed a great set of knives attending Le Cordon Bleu. I married the man who encouraged me to follow my dream to come here, even when it meant putting his own life on hold. We never completely filled in the map of Paris, but on my journey here I’ve found places within myself where I’d never been. From my romance with Mike, I’ve come to realize I’d never explored the streets of my emotions enough to learn the geography of my own heart.”

Other reviews that I read focus on her decision to attend the school at all, but I was more drawn to her personal journey of discovery. Though I did read the book in a postpartum haze, I enjoyed it and (as a confessed cart-peeper) look forward to checking out her second title, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks

Have you read The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry? What did you think? Check out The Kitchen Reader for more opinions, or join us for our next pick!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah, Simply Cooked March 31, 2013 at 12:50 pm

You make a good point about Flinn’s self-discovery. Have you had an experience like hers? I haven’t (as far as I know!!) so I wonder if it was her brave decision to try something different that led her down the path to learn so much about herself. I guess, though, whenever I am reflective enough, my everyday life lets me discover and grow.
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Stacy April 6, 2013 at 9:46 pm

I have, on a smaller scale! When we moved to California I couldn’t find theater work. That’s when I invested in coaching school. It was a little less dramatic than her story, but the first time I turned down a theater job it felt huge for me, and entrepreneurship is about 75% personal growth and 25% business.

Interesting point. It’s a bit like the idea of “beginner’s mind.” I’m also of the camp that there are no wrong choices, just different ones, and there’s always something to learn.


Amy March 31, 2013 at 2:26 pm

I’m intrigued and might well pick that book up.
And sharper knives. The good husband and I admit ours are pretty shoddy.


Stacy April 6, 2013 at 9:47 pm

It was part armchair travel, part memoir, part romance, and part cookbook. All things I like!

I was going to say, I think you did well on the husband! So yes, your knives should meet those high standards. =)


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