Most helpful critical review
69 of 79 people found the following review helpful
I wanted to like it.
on October 28, 2011
I read Flinn's previous book, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry and I didn't fall in love with it, but thought it was interesting. This book came highly recommended to me by several people and so I was looking forward to reading it and maybe learning a little, and hearing about the cooking school Flinn developed. And then...I don't know.
There's something about this book I just don't like. Parts of the book seemed, for the lack of a better word, infomercial-ish. Like, she's using all this "sales language" to sell the cooking school attendees (and the readers) on why they should be doing something, and it's supposed to be really heartfelt and authentic, but all I can hear in my head is Ron Popeil saying "But WAIT, THERE'S MORE!!" It's hard for me to pin down exactly why I felt this way, but that's how I felt. Maybe it's because 99% of what Flinn talks about in the book is old news to me? I cook at home a lot - we only eat out, in our house, once a week, and I cook dinner from scratch at least four or five nights a week. I am not a "foodie" but I am aware of things like preservatives, why you should eat grassfed beef, buying organic, food waste, etc. I think maybe if you had no awareness of these things, the book would be very interesting and it would teach you things you didn't know. For me, I felt like she went on and on about things that have been very well-covered in other books and in the media and so parts of the book dragged on, while in the meantime I am hearing that chipper Ron Popeil voice in my head. At one point I got this flash vision of Flinn standing in the cooking-school kitchen, clutching a cookbook, with the same bright eyes and sincere, elated spirit of a religious missionary, evangelically preaching the cook-at-home gospel to the masses. She's self-deprecating in parts of the book, but other parts really reminded me of a cosmetic-salesperson-turned-cooking-teacher, relentlessly chipper in her relentless assault on her students' ideas about food.
The asides and backstories about the cooking school attendees were fine. I thought the story in the front of the book, about the woman she follows around in the grocery store, was strange. I didn't think, "wow, how sensitive and generous of Kathleen." I thought, "That poor woman, getting accosted in a supermarket by a total stranger who wants to talk about her shopping and eating habits." The lady Flinn approached was a lot more tolerant than I would have been - I would have listened politely for about 2 minutes before telling Flinn to bug off.
And I think that's one of the other problems I have with the book. One of the reviews talks about the author's "humility" but I didn't really think Flinn displayed any humility. She seemed to have an answer for everything and to know what was best for her students even if they didn't know themselves. No offense, but Flinn was working with working mothers and people going through significant financial hardship. Meanwhile, she has no kids to deal with, a husband who seems remarkably tolerant and supportive, and an incredibly flexible career, and a seemingly decent amount of economic security (which enables her to start the cooking school without charging anyone for lessons). Then, in the middle of the cooking school she jets off on a European cruise. There's an image presented of Flinn saying "hey, I'm just like you" but as the book went on, it became clear to me that Flinn was not "just like" me, or the students in her school. I am sorry, but until you've worked an 9-5 blue collar or corporate job with a commute where you then go home to a spouse and kids who need to be fed in between soccer practice and homework and laundry and bill-paying and the science project that's due tomorrow and etc. etc. etc., I don't think you can say definitively that shopping frequently for fresh ingredients and making dinner from scratch is "easy" for a person who does deal with that, every single day.
What I definitely liked about the book were the recipes and some of the descriptions of cooking techniques. Honestly, if Flinn had written a cookbook and put in some stuff about her students, and excised most of the long discussions on food politics, this would have been a great, five-star book.
As it is, I can't say I disliked it, really, but I don't think I'll be recommending it to anyone, unless it's someone who doesn't cook and wants to change. Because really, people do have to want to change. In order to do the things that Flinn talks about in the book, it may not take time, and you may not have to be an expert cook, but you do have to care. And my experience is that there are a lot of people out there who don't care. And I understand that that's why the food-politics thing is important - to try to make people care - but ultimately, I think it becomes more noise for people - oh, so now it's not enough that I cook from scratch, but I need organic, fresh ingredients too? and it turns people off. As much as Flinn talks about "foodie elitism" and not living in the rarefied world of the foodie, and how you don't have to be a foodie to be a competent home cook, there isn't a lot of allowance made for people who do not want to shop at farmer's markets or who can't afford organic chicken. There's elitism that creeps in that I think is totally unintended, but that I found off-putting regardless. And I think ultimately that is what is keeping people out of the kitchen, not a lack of skills.