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

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.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

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