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.
James 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.