Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

Have you ever considered a radical career change? Sometimes I dream about what I might have done in an "alternate life". I think that I could have become an executive assistant to an important and busy person, making their life functional and organised. Sometimes I think I could have been a technical writer; maybe a science correspondent for a newspaper. Other times I think I could have set up a bed and breakfast by a lake.

I have never wanted to a be a full time chef, though. I have now read a couple of books about people who threw in the towel at their "ordinary" (non-cooking) jobs and went to culinary school. These brave souls are willing to give up their stability and life's work to date to retrain as a restaurant chef. I love cooking; I do! And perhaps you do, too. But would you want to train as a cook? Or work full time as a chef?

Kathleen Flinn, the author of February's Kitchen Reader book, left her "regular" job to take courses at the Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts School in Paris. She learned how to prepare all the French classic recipes on the syllabus, including mirepoix (diced vegetables for stock), quail, sweetbreads, all the classic sauces, and lots of meat stuffed with meat. Her memoir, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry details the cranky chefs, competitive classmates, and knife/life skills she learned along the way.

Flinn talks a lot about the recipes she learned to prepare. Though the culinary school recipes all seemed to finicky for me to be genuinely interested in them, I found myself enjoying the food and life connections. Flinn's love of cooking means she can use it as a refuge when homesick, angry, or confused. When the chefs picked on her, she wrote, "He ignored me. I took out my frustrations on the guinea fowl."

Flinn's encountered a chef whose food she thought was inventive, Christian Le Squer, at his restaurant, Le Doyen. During their conversation, she mentioned that her favourite dish was the amuse-bouche, the tiny pre-appretiser dish of beet sorbet on top of smoky fish. He was excited and explained that he tried to think of ingredients that don't work together, and then find a way that they could. I was really inspired by this idea - and I feel like it's my usual "what's in the fridge for dinner?" conundrum!

"Taste, taste, taste!" is the mantra Flinn took away from Le Cordon Bleu. She wrote that this was advice for cooking and for life. I'm sure her culinary tastes changed dramatically through her time at culinary school. Her whole life changed after her move to culinary school.

Have you ever considered (or executed) a dramatic change in your life?

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