When Kathleen Flinn lost her corporate job at age 36, she cashed in her savings and headed to Paris to fulfill a lifelong dream – to attend the legendary Le Cordon Bleu culinary school.
Then she took the rest of us along for the ride, recounting her adventures in her debut book, “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry.” The New York Times best-selling memoir chronicles the competitive world of the famous cooking school with Flinn’s tart observations and favorite recipes sprinkled throughout.
Flinn, a chef and teacher who now lives in Seattle, went on to publish two more books, “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School” and “Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good.” Her motto: “Be fearless in your kitchen – and in your life.”
On May 12, she joins the Northwest Passages Book Club stage at The Spokesman-Review’s Dorothy Dean Home Cooking Show. In an interview before her Spokane visit, Flinn shares her approach to cooking, her new podcast and advice for home cooks.
What first inspired you to cook?
My grandmother and my parents cooked a lot, so I would attribute my early interest to them. I started cooking dinner regularly when I was 13 years old after my father died. It was just my mom and I and she worked full-time, so I took over making dinner. Focusing on figuring out recipes, going to the store and cooking almost every day really helped me overcome my grief.
What dish or ingredients best represents you?
I can’t discount the influence of Julia Child on my life. She’s the reason I went to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. When I was little, my parents didn’t let me watch much television. There were basically three or four shows that were considered OK – “Star Trek,” Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom,” “Gunsmoke” and anything with Julia Child. It seemed like Julia as on endless loop on our local PBS station in the afternoons, so my sister and I would watch her for hours. I was 11 or 12 when I earned my first Girl Scout badge, which was for cooking, and I made her boeuf bourguignon. Her nephew said that dish was a kind of a touch point for her throughout her life, and I think it’s become mine, too.
What is your approach to storytelling through your food?
Anthony Bourdain once said “I ask people really simple questions about what they eat, and they reveal extraordinary things about themselves.” I think there’s a lot of truth to that. Food is part of our memory, and an essential part of our personal histories. Back when I was starting out in journalism and I was writing obits, I often started an interview about by asking what they served at the wake. I love learning to cook from people from other countries because I think it’s a great way to learn about that culture. So I guess I use it as a means to tell a story; the food is never the end, but a conduit to learning about something else.
What most excites you about your latest project?
I’m super excited about my new podcast. It launches in June and it’s called “Hungry for Words.” It’s basically an excuse to lure really interesting people into my kitchen to talk about food writing. I’m interviewing authors I’ve long admired or whose work I find incredibly interesting. I have been collecting interviews for more than a year so I already have 12 episodes recorded. My first guest will be Alex Prud’homme, Julia Child’s great nephew who co-wrote “My Life in France” with her. We spent more than an hour talking about Julia and how she had a midlife crisis, something I’ve never heard before. How else would I get that experience? So it’s been great fun, and I’m really excited to share it with everyone. Oh, and every episode features a recipe from or inspired by the books my guests have written. I make them on the air, we talk about them and then share the recipe online. You can learn more at cookfearless.com.
What’s your favorite dish to prepare at home?
Pretty much anything. My husband will tell you I’m always cooking. I’m lucky because our house is set up so the living room and kitchen are basically the same place, so I cook while we’re watching TV or a movie. In the winter, I love to make soup. In the summer, I’m all about planking salmon. At breakfast, I love to make omelets. It’s how I use up leftovers.
What’s your favorite piece of advice to share with home cooks?
If you don’t cook or won’t cook, then you end up letting someone else feed you. Too often, that’s multinational corporations who don’t have your health or best interest at heart. So I say, just cook. Don’t be afraid to fail. No one is going to walk into your kitchen and tell you to pack your knives and go home like they do on TV. Also you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment. Just get a decent knife and a few other essentials. The great thing is that you can find a video online to show you how to cook whatever you want. So just get cooking.
What has been your great food adventure (so far)?
I would say that living in Paris for nearly two years studying at Le Cordon Bleu was the biggest adventure. But there are certainly more in store! Lately, I’ve been eying Italy.
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