Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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.
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
“If chefs are the new rock stars, Jason Sheehan is like a grunge guitarist of the old school. Sheehan cut his teeth in Buffalo and Tampa in the full-contact arena of line prep. The cooking venues were dingy; his hair long and stringy; and his path from the deep fryer to foodie journalist, as described in this hilarious memoir, featured more smoke breaks than your average AA meeting.” —John Freeman, NPR.org
“‘Cooking Dirty,’ a broad, prickly, affecting memoir chronicling his recollections of his first 30-odd years . . . Young and ambitious and in full voice, Sheehan no doubt has many adventures ahead to gather for his next memoir (or three). I’d expect them.” —Tucker Shaw, Denver Post
“It was bound to happen. After the publication of Kitchen Confidential and Anthony Bourdain’s meteoric rise from self-described journeyman chef/heroin addict to bestselling author and traveling TV host, it comes as no surprise that a new generation would be inspired to write about following Bourdain’s often-dissipated career path. Jason Sheehan is one of those guys. In Cooking Dirty, Sheehan chronicles his alcohol-soaked and drug-fueled journey from dishwasher in a Rochester, N.Y., pizza joint to jobs as line cook, bartender, ‘wheel man,’ and sous chef at a succession of diners, Waffle Houses, Chinese restaurants, grocery store delis, and other midlevel eateries to his current career as a restaurant critic for Denver alternative weekly Westword . . . [Sheehan] knows how to weave a good story while still being brutally honest about himself—‘a blue-collar, rust belt diner kid, a beans-and-weenies, steak-and-potatoes simpleton’ at the beginning of his cooking career. The two best laughs I had involved Sheehan’s description of surreptitious purchases of Gourmet magazine as a high school kid and his one failed attempt to ‘translate the language of baking into cook-ese’ (‘like trying to teach long division to a hamster’).”
—Virginia B. Wood, The Austin Chronicle