When, at age 36, Kathleen Flinn’s mid-level corporate job was eliminated, she was faced with a choice: get another mid-level corporate job somewhere, or… pursue a lifelong dream of going to the cooking school Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Encouraged by her boyfriend — who puts his life on hold to move to Paris to be with her — she chooses the latter.This totally and completely engrossing book is her story.
Equal parts food book, travel book and memoir, Flinn captures the experience and essence of not only cooking gourmet food, but of Paris and of the high-stress, high-stakes world of gourmet cooking. With all these elements in one book, one would think that it would be hard to strike a balance. And in some respects, one would be right. It is, first and foremost, a food book. Not only is the book littered with delicious-sounding, French-inspired, gourmet recipes, but Kathleen is meticulous with detail about her time in the cooking school. She doesn’t hesitate to tell about her failures (like the time the “Grey Chef” shouted at her, or the time she dropped the roast duck on the floor) but she doesn’t gloat over her successes (like when the head chef of Le Doyen singles her out over her classmates to chat with for 20 minutes). It’s all matter-of-fact: this happened, she had this amazing experience, she lived this dream; wouldn’t you like to read about it?
In addition to the recipes and her cooking experiences, she litters the book with trips around Paris (as well as a couple other European cities), most specifically to the Paris markets. The sights, smells, sounds, connections of European markets — it was sensory heaven. Flinn has a gift for making the most ordinary trip to the market come alive.
Because cooking was her life and her life was her cooking, we are allowed to see peeks into Flinn’s everyday life. There was her relationship with her boyfriend (later her husband) that played a major role, as did the relationships with neighbors, landlords and eccentric and interesting classmates. And then there were the never-ending houseguests, from former boyfriends to possibly the worst houseguest imaginable.
However, even with the transcendent food experiences, it is not a perfect book. Flinn decides to give the book a Big Moral and make it into a Life Changing Experience, which falls flat. It’s nice that her life was changed for the better by this experience, but please just stick to the experience and try not to make it into a general How-To for the rest of us. However, as flat as the moral fell, the food and her time in Paris are enough to make this book utterly worth the time spent reading.
Rated: Moderate, for mild swearing and one use of strong language.