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Five minutes with: Kathleen Flinn

Latest author chef interview: We spend five minutes talking to Kathleen Flinn, the author of 'The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry', by MiNDFOOD.

Five minutes with: Kathleen Flinn

We spend five minutes talking to Kathleen Flinn, the author of ‘The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry’.

In 2003, Kathleen Flinn, a 36-year-old American living in London, returned from holidays to find her corporate job had been terminated.

Flinn used it as an opportunity to move to Paris to pursue her long-held dream to study at the renowned Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.

She documents her experience in Paris, interweaving some magnificent recipes, in her new book, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry (Piatkus).

Was it an easy decision to move to Paris?

It wasn’t my first thought, actually. When I told my boyfriend, Mike, that my job had been terminated while I was on holiday, I was making a case to join him in the US. But he surprised me by pushing me to pursue my dream to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

I argued that I didn’t have enough money to do it; he told me to dip into my retirement savings if I had to. I told him I didn’t speak French well enough; he said I’d learn. Then I said, “I won’t know anyone in Paris,” and he replied, “You’ll know me. If you want me to, I’ll go with you.” After that, I couldn’t think of any reason not to go. Mike quit his job, rented out his house and moved to Paris.

It wasn’t geographically a hard move as I was living in London. The hard part was getting over the obstacles I’d put in my own way.

How did you feel when you arrived in Paris?

I felt a bit lost and overwhelmed. It was such a sudden, dramatic shift. I felt as if I’d been drop-kicked out of my corporate job. But then I started to regain my real self – the writer self, not the self that had somehow become a corporate middle manager.

Was Le Cordon Bleu what you expected?

Not really. I expected it to be sort of glamorous, something like in the 1950s film Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn. But the school didn’t immediately look impressive. It was smaller than I’d envisaged and there were electric stoves!

Very quickly, I realised it was more a sort of culinary boot camp than a Hollywood film. During my years of throwing ambitious dinner parties, I’d never learned how to hold a knife properly. It was physically more gruelling than I’d envisaged.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

I took a year of French at university, but it wasn’t enough for the rigours of culinary school and daily life in Paris. In my first class, a chef was discussing my plate and the only word I understood was sel (salt).

I lacked the vocabulary to put it into context: did he say I’d added too little or too much? I studied hard to catch up, but I’m still far from fluent.

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