Sex, Drugs and Kung Pao Chicken


Posted by Lisa SimpsonJason Sheehan, he of the crise de foie that we sort of pushed on him back in April (he was, I promise, a willing and greedy duck), has written a memoir about working in kitchens in the 1990’s. He reels out the stories like a guy that’s been to war, come back and is now trying to convince others to return with him. A kitchen recruiter. But you can tell… he’s a little off in the head, like somewhere he went carbon steel and it’s a little frightening to the rest of us here in civilization where we order food and enjoy air conditioning. His book will doubtless be compared to Kitchen Confidential by far better writers than I, but let me say this: I always suspected Tony had to sanitize his book, especially after reading A Cook’s Tour, I am further convinced.You want to really know what it’s like? Pick up a copy of Cooking Dirty, because Jason captures the heat and tension, the fine clockwork machinery and battlefield ethics of a professional kitchen. Plus, Jason’s just a funny, witty brilliant writer- he’s won awards for his restaurant reviews in the Denver Westword. In the course of trying to pick out sample lines, I’ve read the book twice.

For those people that always moon around your Viking stove, sighing how you always wished you could be a chef but got railroaded into a ‘real’ job in banking or IT, Jason has written a sticky, vibrant mash note that will shake out the cooks from the execs. Buckets of water to dunk your head in so you don’t leave the line to pass out. A two-handed plunge into hot fryer oil. The relentless march of orders from hungry people that never see you, much less care that you’re going to pass out or that someone’s lost their hands to the fryer, or that the kitchen (and thereby the entire flipping restaurant) nearly exploded from a forgotten gas leak. Reading it will either make you recoil in horror and rush back to your HR-protected office to rubber stamp files waiting in your IN box, or you will bounce with shared adrenaline, the challenge of, if not excellence, then at least just being able to keep pace. And that will tell you right there if you’ve got the chops to be a cook… much less a chef. Jason touches on the constants of a professional cook’s life: trying to put the perfect char to a steak, again and again every day, then trying to scrape the char off your personal relationships at home. Cooking Dirty is full of all the delicious things you know aren’t healthy: bad life choices, drugs, F-bombs. It’s the crise de foie of summer reads.

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