A book to read..

Kathleen Flinn, the author and real life experience-r of the book, ‘The Sharper your Knife, the less you cry is a new hero of mine.  She. Is. Me. Or rather, I see a lot of myself in her.  As an early 30 something living in London, feeling trapped in a middle management job, and finding herself utterly unpassionate about life, a small twist of fate, spirals her into a life long fantasy-that-becomes-reality.  She clears out her savings, says goodbye to corporate life and heads off to Paris to learn to cook at the iconic, Le Cordon Bleu.

After a brief vacation, she returns back to London only to find out she has been “sacked” from her mundane corporate job. Not totally surprised, yet not exactly sure what to do, she is forced to do some serious soul searching, but what next? Would she go and look for another job? Would she move back to the US?  After a conversation with a former flame, she was reminded of something she had said years ago, something that she had never really forgotten. “She told Mike, “her life long dream would be to work in London for a couple of years, and then quit to go live in Paris and study French Cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu””.

On her first day of school, she receives her knife kit, chef whites, to include; hounds tooth pants, chef coat, neckerchief, hat, apron, and side towels.  She describes the way she feels in these clothes, as a man in over sized pajamas.  I can relate.   She then quickly settles into class and begins to introduce herself to fellow classmates, inspect her outfit more closely, and start to investigate the heavy knife kit she will now have to carry and bring to every class, clean, sharp and ready for whatever tasks come her way.  As an American with very little French under her belt, the class translator that is provided only helps decipher the Chef Instructors lecture, she is not there to be a constant aid.  Ms. Flinn, as she is called throughout the book is left to her own devices to start figuring out the language and her mediocre adaptations of French cooking. So far, the chef instructor is not pleased with her technique, flavors, or scatter brain attitude.  When she first arrived at the Le Cordon Bleu, she dreamt of Foie Gras, rich cheeses, custards, artisanal breads, soufflés, Duck a la’Orange, and cassoulet.   She was quickly realizing knife skills, turning vegetables, stock foundations, and to taste! taste! taste! was quickly becoming her life… at least for a little while.

As I read this book, I kept finding myself going, ‘oh my god, I did that!’ or ‘ I felt that way too!’ and ‘ I know what she is talking about!’   Our lives eerily mimic one another.  I am not a late 30 something caught in a mundane job, but I know that I am not in the career that I want forever. I know that I have had a passion for cooking all my life. And I know that for years I thought that culinary school was just a dream and never a reality, until one day, life presented a different path.

Her fears of exploring a new cuisine, the French language, fellow classmate’s attitudes and egos, as well as her ever present feeling of ‘Did I make the right decision?’ follow her for a good first portion of the book.  I read and marvel as I too have had the same fears and worries. This all unfolds in chapter 3, what is so aptly named: “Culinary Boot Camp” I understand.

Ms. Flinn eloquently and accurately proceeds to describe throughout the rest of the book, her new found friendships with LizKat, LP, Mike, and Anna-Clare, the trials of practical testing- cooking only from memory, her developing French language skills, the brief encounters with Julia Child, her new found love of technique and pride of her skills, tastes that she will forever remember, trips to Provence, the many good wines she drank, and the loving memories of how moving to Paris changed her life forever.   She often quotes Earnest Hemmingway and it resonates with me; “If you’re lucky enough to live in Paris when you are young, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for “Paris is a moveable feast””. I think to myself, I need to go to Paris.

This book revived me just when I needed it.  School thus far has been extremely enjoyable, and yet equally frustrating.  I came in thinking I knew a lot, and I quickly have realized I am just at the beginning of all that I am about to learn.   I am in school at Le Cordon Bleu to study and be held to a high standard, to be trained in extremely difficult technique and to be prepared for a new exciting, and tough, yet rewarding career.   I was put at ease to know that the same fears and frustrations that I am going through, were also those of  Kathleen Flinn’s when she began.   Culinary school is exciting, and everyday is a new adventure and that is what this book brought back to life for me.  My experience at Le Cordon Bleu is what I make of it, how hard I push myself, and what I ultimately hope to gain.

I must thank my dear friend and fellow Le Cordon Bleu- Ottawa Graduate, Kelly for giving me this book.  It was a delight to read and an experience only few of us will share.


Kitchen Un-Confidential?

Hipstamatic Tony Bourdain, outside the Liberty Hotel, Boston 2011
Anthony Bourdain, to me, is an inspiration, a fabulously reckless human and a fascinating chef.  Through his memoir, Kitchen Confidential, the reader is given a clear picture of his childhood, how he got started, every twist of fate, hire, fire, raunchy tid-bit, near miss, a decade of drugs, and how working incredible hard alongside perseverance has lead him to iconic-like status.  In three hundred an eleven pages, Anthony eloquently describes his career as a young chef, as an influential adolescent, a seedy twenty something, and a maturing chef in a long line of jobs, owners, mob bosses, and competing comrades.
I was particularly fascinated at Tony’s descriptions and desire to portray exactly what working kitchen life is like; he doesn’t hold back!  All the crude things that have and will happen in a walk-in, the competition among chefs, the need for a ‘thick-skin’, and most of all,  the heart and soul of well oiled brigade.  He wants his readers to know just how much, blood, sweat, and tears go into such a profession. 
Tony sums up his thoughts by reflecting on his own past, the people he’s met, and the comfort of coming out on top from a rather tumultuous career.  He feels surprised, and lucky to have had such great jobs in some of New York’s best restaurants, under some of the finest restaurateurs, and some-not-so-fine chef/owners.
This book reaffirmed just how excited I am to get on the line in a fast paced, well executed kitchen.  It taught me that there are going to be really hard times, stressful situations, great expectations, and idiot owners, but also extremely rewarding days, the kind that continue to fuel my excitement for creative food and make it all worth it!  As long as I can maintain a balance for myself, keep my drive, and be willing to learn; I will always find excitement in food.   I look at this memoir as somewhat of a ‘what-not-to-do guide’. In his own opinion he lays out the annoyances, backstabbing, and laziness that can cause major frustration in a kitchen. He also talks about being a valuable team player, an innovator, and a dependable chef, which are key things to keeping job, or being asked to join an even better team.  As I start my new beginning in life, I will always remember this book, and draw upon his experiences to shape my own.
I’ll be personally meeting Chef Tony B and Chef Eric Ripert on March 4th.. an experience of a lifetime and a lengthy blog post to come!  If you could meet a professional/celebrity chef, what would you ask them?

A must read..

Cooks Illustrated is a must have for any aspiring or professional cook.  It is short, to the point, and an extremely useful magazine. The concept is based on making good food, even better!  Tweaking, testing and coming up with more innovative ways to do something- is useful to anyone.  I particularly like the test section. In 1-2 pages they test various kitchen tools, for example, food processors, induction burners, or grill pans, educating it’s reader on what the best tool for the money is.  Christopher Kimball is the mastermind behind this delightful publication, he’s been testing recipes and gadgets in America’s Test Kitchen, located in Brookline, MA for decades. I highly recommend you check this out!