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Cooking Dirty

Cooking Dirty
A Story of Life, Sex, Love and Death in the Kitchen
Jason Sheehan
FSG
Buy at Amazon

Never look at your favorite restaurant in the same way thanks to, “Cooking Dirty,” another tome in the long line of kitchen exposé books. Part memoir, part confessional, Jason Sheehan serves up the typical gross out “you won’t believe what happens before that souffle gets to your table” stories that inundate the foodie world. Sheehan, however, does it better than most, and importantly, doesn’t take himself too seriously as he chronicles his experiences during the long hours spent in commercial kitchens.

Sheehan catches the cooking bug young, on his first job as a dishwasher at a local pizza joint. He scrapes the dough pans, mops the floors. The work is hard, menial, nearly pointless, yet it gets inside him; and he yearns for the unique skills every good chef must possess.

I wanted, someday, to be that good with a knife. I wanted to be Angelo-fast. I wanted his hands, and though I didn’t know where he went in his head when he sliced mushrooms or cored peppers, I wanted to see that place for myself, too.

But cooking isn’t just about wielding a big knife. It’s about taste, grace under fire and being able to multi-task. These aren’t skills you acquire at the local cooking school, you learn by doing. Sheehan takes jobs in Florida where the kitchen are hot enough to kill you, tending bar at a shady Chinese joint and slinging eggs and hash at an all night diner. “Cooking,” Sheehan writes “is the last true American meritocracy.” If you work hard, you succeed. Of course, kitchens aren’t the only places that have a monopoly on effort. Hard, manual labor also pays at similar occupations where under-educated, unmotivated testosterone fueled boys can fall into a career––the military, plumbers union or construction.

But in our foodie culture it’s the celebrity chefs and their chaotic, off-the-wall stories that we crave. Unfortunately, that’s where this book fails to rise. It’s subtitle “A Story of Life, Sex, Love and Death in the Kitchen” promises, but doesn’t deliver. Many of Sheehan’s stories, while told well, regurgitate the same old shtick: horrific burns, drunken fights, gaudy knife wounds. While perhaps an once interesting appetizer, these aren’t enough to feed the reader, and ultimately, I wanted more beyond that.

No one cares about your struggles, your sweat, your long hours or what final, last minute miracle you pulled. Just put dinner on the table.

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