Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cooking Dirty

When I read Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, I was shocked by his descriptions of his rockstar-like lifestyle, the breakneck pace of working in a professional kitchen, and what really happens with the food that ends up on your plate. It was certainly entertaining, but surely, I thought, not typical.

But Jason Sheehan's memoir Cooking Dirty: A Story of Life, Sex, Love and Death in the Kitchen, has a lot in common with Bourdain's tale. Since he was a teenager, Sheehan has worked in numerous kitchens around the country. From pizza joints to all-night diners to classier restaurants, Sheehan has seen it all. Like Bourdain, his lifestyle consists of up-all-night, sleep-all-day, 100-hour work weeks. He numbs the pain from his burns and wounds with alcohol and fuels his body with nicotine and drugs. From the moment his shift starts until the moment it ends, the pace is unrelenting and the heat (literally and figuratively) is on. Cooks don't get a 30 minute meal break, and if they injure themselves, they wrap it up with a towel and keep going. This is an eye-opening, entertaining, fast-paced look at the life of a professional cook (note: not Chef). Although it is quite similar in content, style and tone to Bourdain, it is nonetheless, a good read. It really makes me appreciate my calm, quiet, clean job, where I can sit in a chair and am in no danger of severe burns or knife wounds.*

*This makes me wonder: it seems like this field is dominated by men. I know there are plenty of women with shows on the Food Network, but when you look at actual Chefs running their own restaurants, it seems like it's mostly men. I would love to read a book like Sheehan's or Bourdain's that is written by a woman. What's it like to be a woman in this job? Anyone have any suggestions? I'm sure there has to be a book or two out there.

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