Cooking Dirty: A Story of Life, Sex, Love, and Death in the Kitchen

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THE GRIT AND GLORY OF RESTAURANT LIFE, AS TOLD BY A SURVIVOR OF KITCHENS ACROSS AMERICA

Cooking Dirty is a rollicking account of life “on the line” in the restaurants, far from culinary school, cable TV, and the Michelin Guide—where most of us eat out most of the time. It takes the kitchen memoir to a rough and reckless place.

From his first job scraping trays at a pizzeria at age fifteen, Jason Sheehan worked on the line at all kinds of ...

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Cooking Dirty: A Story of Life, Sex, Love and Death in the Kitchen

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Overview

THE GRIT AND GLORY OF RESTAURANT LIFE, AS TOLD BY A SURVIVOR OF KITCHENS ACROSS AMERICA

Cooking Dirty is a rollicking account of life “on the line” in the restaurants, far from culinary school, cable TV, and the Michelin Guide—where most of us eat out most of the time. It takes the kitchen memoir to a rough and reckless place.

From his first job scraping trays at a pizzeria at age fifteen, Jason Sheehan worked on the line at all kinds of restaurants: a French colonial and an all-night diner, a crab shack just off the interstate and a fusion restaurant in a former hair salon. Restaurant work, as he describes it in exuberant, sparkling prose, is a way of life in which “your whole universe becomes a small, hot steel box filled with knives and meat and fire.” The kitchen crew is a fraternity with its own rites: cigarettes in the walk-in freezer, sex in the basement, the wartime urgency of the dinner rush. Cooking is a series of personal challenges, from the first perfectly done mussel to the satisfaction of surgically sliced foie gras. And the kitchen itself, as he tells it, is a place in which life’s mysteries are thawed, sliced, broiled, barbecued, and fried—a place where people from the margins find their community and their calling.

With this deeply affecting book, Sheehan (already acclaimed for his reviews) joins the first class of American food writers at a time when books about food have never been better or more popular.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Sheehan, a James Beard award-winning food writer at Westword, Denver's alternative weekly newspaper, knows the tradition he's working in: he walked up to the editor at one of his first writing gigs and introduced himself as "your Anthony Bourdain motherfucker." Before that, he'd spent years bouncing around from one restaurant kitchen to the next-first in upstate New York, then in a disastrous move to Florida, and back to New York before heading out west to reunite with the woman he met during his failed one year of college. Sheehan's memoir is emphatically not about "the glam end of cooking" or celebrity chefs, but about "a straight blue-collar gig," where the kitchens are staffed by the kind of guys who get off on the fact that the work is insanely grueling. As Sheehan puts it, "I was being paid to play with knives and fire." The war stories are as profane and outrageous as you'd expect, and Sheehan finds just the right balance between bravado and humility. There's a subtle shift in emphasis once his personal life (and, eventually, writing career) gains traction, but the kitchens where the best stories take place are never far from sight. (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal
For James Beard Award-winning food critic Sheehan, cooking is war. Beside the requisite cursing, violence, drinking, insane working conditions, and occasional bloodshed, there is an intense loyalty that binds a kitchen staff of societal misfits together and keeps them working until the last plate is served. Sheehan distills nearly 20 years spent working in a variety of kitchens around the United States into a rough (there's an abundance of swearing), tough, and riveting culinary biography that not only details the scars the author has earned in his journey through life but also gives readers a true taste of a real cook's working world. VERDICT This is certain to be a hit with readers who gobbled up Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential or Bill Buford's Heat.—John Charles, Scottsdale P.L., AZ
Kirkus Reviews
Kitchen Confidential meets gonzo journalism in this memoir of life as a cook. "If you're looking for some four-star confessional, for the cooking secrets of master chefs or some effervescent, champagne-and-twinkle-lights twaddle about bright knives, foie gras and sweaty love among the white jackets, go find another book," Sheehan advises readers at the beginning. Far from the behind-the-scenes tell-alls of peons in the country's finest dining establishments, the author offers a gritty, sludge-filled account of his decade in a succession of restaurants. From humble beginnings scraping pizza crust off pans in the local pizzeria as a teenager, to a stint bartending at a Chinese joint that secretly doubled as a swinger's club, to his eventual rise to fame as a James Beard Award-winning food critic, Sheehan recounts the ungarnished truth of millions of restaurant workers-severed digits, delirious nights on the line and easy access to sex, drugs and gourmet food products. Crisp dialogue, vivid descriptions and the urgent pace of the text create the air of a soldier's tale of a long-ago war, a parallel that the author seems at pains to make. The book often reads like a veteran's chronicle of a war that won't stop haunting him. Though lively and mostly entertaining, Sheehan's accounts of the do-or-die dinner rushes, the unspoken but deeply felt camaraderie of kitchen serfs and the binge drinking and drugging that ease the pain and memories eventually become tiresome, and his transformation from restaurant worker to reviewer is compelling but rushed. A flawed but reasonably seasoned, intriguing account of life behind the kitchen doors.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Award-winning food writer and former chef Jason Sheehan entertainingly describes his hardscrabble career cooking across America in all-night diners, greasy-spoon eateries, and strip-mall restaurants. Far removed from the limelight of New York or Paris, or celebrity chefs with their instant name recognition, Sheehan brings us inside the chaotic, adrenaline-fueled, and multiethnic kitchens where our next meal might well originate. These kitchens, in Sheehan's rendering, are places where anything goes, including petty criminality, unexpected violence, and obscenely abusive language. Sheehan himself seems like an overworked, underpaid pirate captain living a life of swashbuckling excess. In his lowest moment, Sheehan bemoans working at Jimmy's Crab Shack in Tampa "deep-frying fisherman's platters for dimwits." While Sheehan depicts the nightly chaos inside a busy kitchen, he also expresses his hopeless, often unrequited love for cooking, as well as his addiction to the sense of community a close-knit kitchen represents. "This was The Life," writes Sheehan, "disasters and heat and blistering adrenaline highs, the tunnel vision, the crashing din...crushing pressure and pure, raw joy." As for why Sheehan never tried to make it big as a celebrity chef, he answers with a simple truth: "I was a cook. And for me, that was enough." Sheehan's eye-opening narrative is both anthropological, evocatively analyzing a bizarre kitchen subculture, and autobiographical, expressing his own confusing, often hilarious journey into the underbelly of American cuisine. Whether as a chef or a writer, Jason Sheehan offers up a delightful meal that's a pure, sensual pleasure. --Chuck Leddy
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374289218
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 6/23/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

JASON SHEEHAN, the food writer for Westword, won a James Beard Award in 2003. His essay “There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Barbecue” was reprinted in This I Believe. His work has appeared in Best American Food Writing for the past five years.

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Read an Excerpt

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

When we were done talking, Angelo shook my hand, told me to come back tomorrow, and when I did, to come in through the back door.

To a kid, that’s pretty exciting right from the start. I’d never walked in through the back door of anywhere except my parents’ house; had never seen the inside, the back room, the inner workings, of anything.

Okay, so it wasn’t like getting asked backstage at the rock show or being given a guided tour of the space shuttle. Just an invitation into the kitchen of Ferrara’s Pizza on Cooper Road, a neighborhood joint fifteen minutes’ walk from home. It wasn’t even a job so much as a test. "You come," Angelo had said. "You like me, I like you, then maybe, eh?" He’d shrugged. "Then maybe you come back. Maybe not."

The next day, I came back. I remember the smell of ripe Dump-sters, acidic like hot tomatoes and yeasty like stale beer. I remember the intimate crunch of my shoes as I walked alone down into the alley/parking lot behind the place, cigarette butts strewn on the broken concrete and the sound of raised voices on the other side of the rickety screen door that let into the kitchen. I heard shouting that sounded happy and serious both at the same time—impossible for me to reconcile with the simple emotional architecture of my particular and quiet suburban upbringing, where shouting only ever meant something bad—and impossible to translate because it was in Italian. I, of course, spoke not a word of Italian and (perhaps unwisely) had taken my first job in a place where Eyetie was the primary language. At the time, this seemed only a minor inconvenience.

I remember reaching for the door and feeling the dry heat baking through the screen on the palm of my outstretched hand.

Wow, I thought. That’s uncomfortable. Maybe the air conditioner isn’t working.

My second thought was that perhaps my choice (guided by my mother) in wearing a cadaverous blue button-down shirt and dark slacks with pointy-toed dress shoes to my first day of work had been a mistake.

But she’d been so proud, so happy. She’d insisted that—at least on their first day at a new job—everyone ought to dress as though they were attending a formal ball where one’s clothing, carriage and grace would be studied with some rigor. Because one never truly knew what they were in for on their first day of anything, it was all a matter of first impressions. And Mom was a big believer in first impressions. I’ve seen pictures of myself when I was a small child, in the years before I had any control over how I dressed me, and have witnessed the full flowering of my mom’s obsession with firsts. Coming home from the hospital, I looked like a small ham dressed for trick-or-treating in a Winnie-the-Pooh bunting complete with ears and paws. First day of school? Corduroy Toughskins and what appears to be a midget’s dinner jacket. In my first-grade school picture I am wearing a plaid bow tie and cummerbund and a gap-toothed grin so wide and crazy I am frankly amazed I wasn’t immediately prescribed something. At my First Communion, I looked like I should be serving drinks.

There is a treasured family photo of the four of us—Mom, Dad, me and my little brother, Brendan—posing on the edge of some mountain in the Adirondacks. It’s the first mountain the four of us climbed together, according to my mother. Myself, I’d say it was probably just taken in the woodlot down at the end of the street where I grew up, except that the ground behind us in the picture seems to be slanting upward at some ridiculously steep angle, and none of us are actually standing. We are, in fact, clinging, crablike, with fingers and bootheels to a rock outcropping and quite plainly trying to keep from sliding off to our deaths.

In the picture, my mom and dad both look like teenagers. She’s wearing shorts and hiking boots and pigtails and a look of manic, totally insane joy—an expression she wears, in one form or another, in every photo ever taken of her. He has a beard and a mustache, a flannel shirt, and the air of a man expecting to be eaten by a bear at any moment. Brendan is four years old so it doesn’t matter what he’s dressed in, but I have been attired in what appears to be a pair of miniature lederhosen like a tiny pitchman for European throat lozenges.

Anyway, Mom was big on firsts and big on dressing up for them. So it being 1988 and this being my first day of work, that was what I’d done—dolling myself up in my blue shirt with the too-large collar and poly-blend slacks and pointy shoes, looking like a short, skinny thrift-store version of the lead singer from Foreigner and having balked only at the addition of my best red leather tie. It was a pizza joint, I figured. A tie would just be overdoing it.

I pulled open the door and stepped inside. A radio was playing something unrecognizable and full of accordions. The air above and around the three double-deck pizza ovens was warped by the furnace heat radiating from them, like looking at the world through water, and everywhere else was thick with flour. It hung like a dusty cloud. The floor was gritty with it, every flat surface covered with it. The kitchen was a microcosm of motes and streamers, the thin stratus formations disturbed only by the passage of bodies through it and the suck of ventilating fans; a universe of flour that whitened everything it touched. To take a breath was to inhale whole galaxies of finely ground wheat, and the taste was like chalk on the tongue riding an olfactory wave of tomatoes, oregano and char. In two minutes, I’d sweated through my pretty blue shirt. After three, I was ready to pass out.

Angelo saw me standing there and broke out laughing, the cigarette in the corner of his mouth bobbing, the dusty skin around his eyes wrinkling. Natalie, his wife, made a face like I was the funniest, saddest thing she’d ever seen. And I just stood there, weaving in place and sweating while the accordions honked and everyone in the kitchen erupted in laughter and language I didn’t understand.

Finally, Angelo took off his glasses and wiped at his eyes. He pointed to a corner of the kitchen with a coatrack and some clean aprons stacked on a shelf. "Jason. Go. Change," he said.

So I did.

MY MOM HAS THIS STORYshe likes to tell. Well, not a story exactly. It’s more like an act, a shtick she falls back on whenever someone asks her what I was like as a kid.

Jay used to be such a sweet boy. You remember that show Family Ties? Well, Alex P. Keaton was his hero. He dressed like him, acted like him. He was always more comfortable around adults, you know? Very polite. Very smart. When he was little, he used to dress up all the time. One day he’d put on an army helmet and a backpack and be a soldier. The next day he’d wear this adorable little Boy Scout uniform and carry this bird book around with him. And I’d always get a call from Mrs. So-and-So down the end of the street and she’d say, "Cindy, Jason’s running away again. And he’s dressed like a spaceman or something."

But he always came home, didn’t he? He always came home and he was always so sweet. See? Look at this . . .

At which point she will unearth a box of pictures or, worse, a framed-portrait collection of me through the years, from like five or six years old on through maybe eighteen. It’s an annual, one portrait from every year, arranged in an oval around one central photo, larger than all the others: a studio portrait of yours truly at eighteen looking like King Dickweed in a turtleneck sweater and blue jeans, brown leather jacket thrown jauntily over one shoulder, shot against a back-drop of disco lights as though I’d been caught by the paparazzi on the dance floor of the Dork Club.* It has come to be known over the years as the Wheel O’ Jay.

With the Wheel serving her like documentary evidence, she will run through the years with quick and practiced ease.

This one, he’s what? Nine years old? Maybe eight?

I’m eight. She knows that perfectly well. And even if she didn’t, you’d think the Cub Scout uniform and the manic, wild-eyed leer of total elementary school picture-day psychosis would be a dead giveaway.

Look at him here, she’ll continue, her voice hard and nasal like Marge Gunderson from Fargo after a toot of helium. Isn’t he cute? That little tie and sweater vest. That was the year we all went to Atlantic City. To the boardwalk. He was so excited. And this one. Doesn’t he look happy? He was twelve here. Our first cat had just died . . .

Her affection for the photos starts to wane considerably by the late eighties, by the time I’d made it to high school. But still, she’ll shrug, tap at the glass. She will claim that I was nothing short of a perfect little mama’s boy until I reached my eighteenth birthday. An absolute angel, sweet as a gumdrop. Never mind that by eighteen, I’d already spent my first night in lockup, had already held and left three different jobs, had moved out (and subsequently back in) twice. She doesn’t mention to guests making the rounds of the Wheel what it was like to stand up in the judge’s chambers and agree to discipline a wayward son who was up on charges of possession of controlled substances, criminal trespassing and contributing to the delinquency of a foreign exchange student. She doesn’t tell the story of how, in an effort to get me to quit smoking on my seventeenth birthday, she gave me a pack of Marlboro Reds with a picture of my grandpa tucked inside the cellophane. He’d recently died of lung cancer (among other things), so the picture showed him in his casket. And she’d painstakingly written Hi, grandpa! in blue ballpoint pen on each individual cigarette, then somehow managed to get them all back in the pack.

*In that picture I’m wearing a slightly dazed and vacant look because, on the good advice of a friend, I’d gotten halfway shitfaced on most of a warm bottle of Wild Irish Rose before going to the studio. Mom has always claimed that I looked contemplative, as if caught thinking of something else the moment the shutter snapped or perhaps considering the gleam on the arc of the bright future stretching out before me. Truth is, I was just trying not to throw up.

Granted, that’s a creepy thing for a mom to do, but catching me by the elbow on my way out the door on my way to my senior prom and pressing a twelve-pack of condoms into my hand—is that worse?

No. What’s worse is that she’d wrapped them in pretty green paper. What’s worse is that she’d known full well my date was already waiting in the car and would be sitting right next to me when I— thinking that she’d perhaps purchased me some sort of functional gift like a hip flask or a pistol—unwrapped her little present. What’s worse is that the condoms she’d bought were ribbed.

She holds to her version of the past—the one in which I didn’t go wrong until the day I left the nest, went away to college, fell in with a bad crowd. And while there is some truth to that rendering (I didn’t discover amphetamines until college, for example, or their over-achieving cousin, crystal methamphetamine, and while I might have been marginally screwed up before that magic moment, after it I was both screwed up and awake for days at a time), it really happened much sooner than that. If my opinion counts for anything in this (and I’m not entirely sure that it does), I would say that everything changed—that I changed—when Angelo told me to. Mom can say whatever she likes (and will, given the least excuse or opportunity), but I was there. I was the one in my skin and in that ridiculous blue dress shirt and in those pointy shoes, standing in the heat and floury clamor of the kitchen at Ferrara’s, so when Ange wiped his eyes, pointed to the corner with the coatrack and aprons, and said, "Jason. Go. Change," I did. It was the first order I took from a chef, the first of a million to come.

I STRIPPED DOWNto a white T-shirt and tied on an apron. I tied it wrong and Natalie had to show me how to do it correctly—strings crossed in the back, tied in the front, the bib tucked inside. The shoes were still a problem, but since I wasn’t going to work barefoot, I suffered with them. At least I looked like half a cook—the top half of one, crudely laced onto the bottom half of a short used-car salesman or the kind of guy who, in my town, would try to sell you shrimp or stolen stereos out of the back of a van.

My first duty was scraping sheet pans—using a bench scraper to flake off the skins of dried dough that’d stuck there after the trays had been pulled from the proofing box and the balls of raw dough removed, turned and laid in for a second rise in the humid air of the kitchen. Ferrara’s Pizza went through an amazing number of sheet pans in a day, working a two-rise rotation that kept probably two hundred of them constantly moving from box to racks to dishwasher and back again. Fifty or more would be used to hold raw dough headed for the proofing box—the balls arranged in two rows of six, twelve to a tray, twenty-some trays to a box—and would stay in there overnight. In the morning, someone (not me) would strip the proofed dough, now all stiff and leathery, from the trays, turn it, move it to a new set of clean sheet pans, stack the dirty ones on the floor, and shove the pans of turned dough into open racks near the prep tables. The dirty pans would be scraped, cleaned and stacked, awaiting the next batch of raw dough, and as Angelo took ball after ball of proofed and risen dough from the pans in the open racks, these would begin to form a second stack of dirties.

That stack then became my responsibility—each pan needing to be scraped perfectly clean of dried-out dough because any trace of it left behind would collect in the dish machine’s filter, eventually causing it to back up and flood the kitchen.

So I scraped the pans as best I could, but these were old pans, a batterie de cuisine that’d been in constant use for probably twenty years. They were warped, dented, buckled. There were pans whose sides had rolled, whose corners had pouched after thousands of violent, hurried probings with the sharp corner of a bench scraper. And each pock and ding and rough spot held flakes and dollops of dough; dough that sometimes came off easy like an old, dry scab, that sometimes turned to dust, that’d sometimes turned wet and gooey and would cling like a booger to anything it touched.

Each pan I finished on that first day I stacked on the loading end of the dishwasher until I had a mighty tower. I’d worked hard. I’d worked as fast as I was able, considering this was all completely new to me and I had no idea what exactly I was doing or how it fit into the grander scheme of Ferrara’s nightly pizza production. I’d gotten the basic gist of the necessary interaction between scraper and tray pretty quickly; had developed something like a system about halfway through the stack, which involved a flashy double pass over the flat surfaces with the blade of the bench scraper and then a vigorous (if not particularly effective) assault on the edges, corners and rough spots with the handle of a spoon I’d pulled out of one of the drying racks. If nothing else, it made me look as though I was working hard and, after my inauspicious entry into the kitchen, looking like I knew what I was doing was very important to me.

It took me almost two hours to finish scraping fifty or maybe a hundred trays. When I was done, I figured they’d now become a dishwasher’s responsibility, though I saw no dishwasher standing around anywhere, just waiting to jump in.

All around me, pizzas were being ordered and constructed with frightening speed. Things were being chopped and diced. The radio was playing and people were yelling and the ovens were cranked to their top settings, the doors left open, heat pouring out of them like liquid. The dinner rush was on and it was exciting, overwhelming. I felt lost, so I edged my way around the kitchen and stepped close to Angelo—wanting to learn how to throw dough, to ladle sauce and work the pizza stick (the big, flat, scorched wooden paddle with which pizzas were loaded and unloaded from the ovens), but terrified at the same time that I’d be asked to do anything other than to stand quietly in a corner and try not to faint. Timidly, I asked him what I could do next.

"Wash," he said without looking at me. "Run the machine." Then he made some strange stacking and lever-pulling motions with his hands, which were what passed for operating instructions for the dishwasher—a large, loud and (I assumed) expensive piece of industrial equipment full of spinning arms and harsh chemicals and boiling hot steam, which I was now expected to operate with some degree of expertise.

Again, I did my best, and again my best amounted to very little. I was quite pleased that I was even able to get the machine started, since I didn’t even know how to work our dishwasher at home and most of my dealings with unfamiliar machinery (such as toasters, microwave ovens, my dad’s Betamax or the lawn mower) involved pushing buttons or flipping switches at random until something unexpected—like a fire—happened. If nothing happened, I would get frustrated and resort immediately to violence, as if the toaster were deliberately trying to ruin my sandwich or the record player purposefully refusing to act as a centrifuge for the G.I. Joe action figures I’d taped to the turntable. Later, when my mom would demand to know who’d kicked the door off the broiling compartment of the oven or heaved my dad’s good power drill up onto the patio roof, I’d pretend I had no idea what she was talking about. I’d tell her it was probably Bren, then calmly go back to smashing my old cassette player with a rock.

Anyway, I was considerably less pleased when, within minutes, I’d managed to flood the entire kitchen. Probably pounds of un-scraped dough had swollen in contact with the hot water inside the machine and found their way to the drain screen. At the first sign of trouble (which announced itself in the form of a stinking geyser of drainwater shooting up from the machine’s well), I panicked, jerked open the loading door in the side of the machine, and got a face full of superheated steam.

Natalie came to my rescue, indelicately muscling me aside and killing the machine with a quick stab at the big red button marked STOP that I’d entirely failed to notice. No one else in the kitchen even slowed down. Ignoring the floodwaters lapping at their boots and what I’d guess was probably a high and girlish screeching coming from me, they simply soldiered on, deconstructing fresh peppers, slicing pepperoni and throwing crusts with a focused concentration I initially took to be an intentional snub.

It wasn’t. It was just that cooks—good cooks, in the middle of a solid hit—are monstrously single-minded creatures. When the rush is on, a cook cooks. He puts his head down and just burns. A flood ain’t nothing till it gets so bad that it starts wetting his prep.

"Is okay," Natalie said to me, touching her fingertips to my chest, my arms, gently tapping and trying to calm me or something. "Is okay. Try again."

So I did. I ran the dish machine for the rest of the night, overflowing it at least twice more and kicking at its legs when no one was looking, but slowly figuring out its intricacies and what it could and couldn’t do. It could wash an evenly spaced and carefully arranged load of sheet trays provided it was coddled along and not put under any sort of undue stress. It couldn’t be made to work faster or better no matter what names I called it or how many times I hit it.

I found and cleaned the drain screen, familiarized myself with the machine’s proper loading and unloading, played with all the buttons and switches, whose labels and settings had worn off ages ago. I was ready to walk out after the first disaster, but I was no quitter so figured I’d at least hang in until the end of the night, when I would no doubt be summarily fired.

Excerpted from Cooking Dirty by Jason Sheehan.

Copyright 2009 by Jason Sheehan.

Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus And Giroux.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2009

    Cooking Dirty by Jason Sheehan

    I'm a 50 years+ veteran in the food service industry and have not read a book since The Forsythe Saga, but bought this book and read it. It tells a very honest story of the real lifestyle of a cook robot who lives, breathes, sleeps, eats and drinks food. It portrays the back of the house a less glamourous view away from the front of the house and all of the players. It's not always pretty, hence the title, but it is realistic. I remet everyone I've ever known and every experience of my career.

    I recommend it to anyone in the industry.

    Jan A. Lovell
    Retired Restauranteur/College Department Chair-Hotel/Restaurant Mgt.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Loved it. I was rolling with laughter when he described his early years with his Mom. However, this book had brutal reality of hard times working in the kitchens and then the sensitivity of a young man coming of age.

    This book isn't for the faint of heart. Jason certainly did a good job describing how kitchens work. You certainly felt you were with Jason on whatever adventure he was in whether it was at the pizza parlor, the Chinese bar, the back of a kitchen or in his childhood home.

    Jason is an excellent writer and I can't wait to read something from him again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2012

    Lilgirl

    Cute and scary

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  • Posted August 22, 2010

    Not Bad, but...

    Bourdain did it first and did it better.

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  • Posted February 22, 2010

    Interesting Look Inside the Restaurant World For Enthusiasts Only

    Sheehan carves out a unique look inside the world of restaurant life, especially from the back rooms and kitchens. He describes in intimate and often times mind blowing detail the behind the scenes dynamic of the restaurant business. He gives all that he has, even if you are not ready for, or don't care about it. Sheehan has a sharp wit, bares his soul unabashedly, but sometimes gets caught up in his own self-absorbed views.

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  • Posted February 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    an absorbing alternate view of restaurant life

    a really enjoyable read--the life of a cook, the drugs beer and knives, have never seemed so romantic. or so sad. it's the story about redemption through love; first of food, then of a woman, and finally through writing.

    i highly recommend this to anyone who loves a good memoir or a good meal!

    my one complaint, is that it's not available as an e-book. i'd buy it as such, as i'm not allowed to bring any more books into the house. . .

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  • Posted August 22, 2009

    This is real life!

    I loved it! This is a must have book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2009

    Delicious and Malicious Dish

    By Bill Marsano. Before Jason Sheehan became a food writer for an alternative Denver paper called Westword, before he won a James beard award for his writing, before he finally managed to semi-settle down with Laura the Love of His Life, he was not what you would call a chef but what you would call a cook. Maybe even a MERE cook, the kind of guy you'll find in an inferno kitchen in Tampa, cooking for Early Birds. Let this be clear: Sheehan's rowdy, cheerfully profane story is not about becoming the sort of clean-apron, tall-toque star of a Food Network series but about starting at the blue-collar bottom and mostly staying there. So if you're a chef-worshiper, a doctrinaire foodie, a devotee of Food Arts magazine, maybe this book isn't for you.

    He throws you right into the madness; It's Tampa, all right, and the Crab Shack's kitchen has a barely competent FNG ["F'ing New Guy"], is a man short because of a poorly timed murder) and soon is another man short when moronic foolery renders the owner unconscious. "As was only to be expected," Sheehan writes, "that was when the real dinner hit finally came tumbling in." The palce is packed and the staff goes crazy in a weirdly competent way: "Sturgis and I sang along with the radio, bouncing on our toes, burning energy while we had it and twirling tongs on our fingers like gunslingers before dropping them onto the steamer's bar handles. We shouted callbacks to Floyd with the strange, exaggerated politeness and house slang of the line: 'Firing tables fifty-five, thirty, sixty-eight, thank you. Going on eight filet. Four well, three middy, one rare. Working fourteen all day, hold six. Five strip up and down. Temps rare, rare, middy waiting on po fries, two well going baker, thank you. Wheel, new fires, please. We've got space.' We yelled at Roberto, at Floyd, at the radio and each other. We yelled at the runners . . . and when we weren't yelling, we were muttering, cursing, talking to the meat, the fire; begging and yelling and cajoling more heat out of the grills, bricking the steaks with iron weights, throwing them in the microwave to speed them along to temp, constantly poking and prodding and plating them to the rail, waiting for po--for starch--and veg and wrap . . . . Then the FNG passed out from the heat."

    All is chaos. Little is understood and the rest barely seen; all you have is the hope that, like the FNG, you'll regain consciousness, catch on and catch up during this long wild ride. And in time you will as you follow Sheehan from one job (and confrontation and firing or walkout) to the next in several states with various pals; tune in as Laura gets (mysteriously) kicked out of Mexico; get the lowdown on hotel cooking (good for pay and benefits, but it crushes creativity) and stand amazed when Sheehan is hired as a corporate chef by Wegman's ("I would . . get looks like I was there to rob the place.").

    All in all, this book is like a bacon sandwich: A delicious greasy pleasure. Dig in!--Bill Marsano is a James Beard Award-winning writer; he specializes in wine, spirits and travel. He served time as a waiter in his youth but was never invited into the kitchen to "play with knives and fire."

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  • Posted June 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Raw, honest writing.

    Sheehan's a good, good writer. He's not great, not quite yet, but he conveys emotion very well, and is capable of being sentimental without being sappy. The book covers his life as a cook, but Sheehan takes pains to express that he's not one of those "fancy Food Network" types with perfectly sterilized kitchens and charming good attitude. Sheehan fits more into the Anthony Bourdain school of thought: real kitchens are messy, often filthy places, real cooks are flawed, vibrant people, and real cooking is a lot like giving birth (somehow beautiful and disgusting at the same time).
    I first became aware of Sheehan through his restaurant reviews in the Westword, a local newspaper. His columns are scathingly (and hilariously) angry when a place isn't up to his standards, and warmly amused when he find a place he's fond of. He prefers cozy neighborhood bars to expensive "in" restaurants, considers the actual food more important than the presentation, and seems to personally know every cook in the city. All of which makes him the most interesting and open reviewer I've ever read.

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  • Posted June 28, 2009

    A Steaming Plate of Life in the Kitchen makes "Cooking Dirty" a Winner!

    Readers of Tom McGuane will immediately recognize Jason Sheehan. They'll recognize his obvious character flaws, bad decisions, self destructive behavior, and stretches of poor personal hygiene. And if they're comfortable switching from the blue sky expanses of the modern West to the tight quarters of the kitchen, they'll enjoy reading "Cooking Dirty" far more than they expect!

    A decade spent waiting tables brought me into contact with a wide range of whacked out rebels in the kitchen. Most were dregs, the kind of people I'd hoped my mom would never know I worked with. But some were real people with compelling stories and a love for their craft. Sheehan most assuredly falls into the latter category.

    Maybe it's the jumps from one self indulgent escapade to the next, or the delayed-yet-ultimately-evident personal growth, but I can't help liking Jason Sheehan. His writing displays the sharp wit and sardonic humor I'd expect from a line guy, but is far more satisfying given the added dimensions of self awareness and introspection. I imagine his writing style to be similar to his spoken word, and that this tale could have just as easily been told over an evening of Marlboros and Wild Turkey.

    Sheehan's prose is solid, and he is a compelling storyteller. With decent marketing and publicity, "Cooking Dirty" should be the first of many offerings from this cook-turned-author. And while he will undoubtedly be compared with other celebrity writers of kitchen nonfiction, Sheehan deserves better. On a road trip or as an escape from the corporate rat-race, "Cooking Dirty" is a first rate read.

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    Posted April 23, 2011

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    Posted December 6, 2009

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    Posted February 24, 2011

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    Posted February 27, 2009

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    Posted February 27, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2010

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