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

3.39 of 5 stars 3.39  ·  rating details  ·  390 ratings  ·  83 reviews

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 pi

Hardcover, 355 pages
Published June 23rd 2009 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Bookworm Smith
Thank goodness Sheehan acknowledged his writing is very similar to Anthony Bourdain (whom I've read a lot of), because at first it comes off like he is just riding the coattails of Bourdain and doing a little copy cat plagiarism type stuff. But, as you read through this book Sheehan's narrative and writing style soon become strikingly different. I can't help but compare this book to Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. They are both brash, cuss filled, memoirs of kitchen life that highlight the wors ...more
Derek Wolfgram
Comparisons to Anthony Bourdain are inevitable, and in fact Sheehan acknowledges his debt to Bourdain repeatedly for paving the way for his approach to writing about restaurants. I have enjoyed Sheehan's restaurant reviews in Denver's weekly Westword for several years. He invites the reader into his life, informs the reviews with his years of kitchen experience, and has a knack for clever turns of phrase and fascinating detours/digressions. He often leaves me wondering "where is he going with th ...more
Monica Williams
If Anthony Bourdain had a literary son it would be Sheehan. Sheehan does admit he owes a debt to Bourdain. The both have a swashbuckling chef mentality. They stomp into the kitchen, they don't always place nice, but they get the job done. They are pirates cutting a swath through the kitchen, working then drinking, and doing any available drugs.(If you need drugs just ask someone who works in the kitchen of a restaurant. Chances are they will know what and where and who has the best deals.) Once ...more
Parts of this book were really interesting. Sheehan really brings to life how a kitchen operates, how lowly paid they generally are, how risky the job be in many of the crappy kitchens. But too much of the book is just plain boring ol' navel-gazing. I'm really not interested in how many drugs this guy took. In fact, it was boring. When his whole life falls to shit somewhere after Florida (when he's in his mid twenties), you don't have to be a doctor to figure out what was wrong with him. You smo ...more
I'm a sucker for this sort of story. I like Anthony Bourdain a lot. Apparently if someone sets out to freak people out about how disgusting and crazed it is in a restaurant kitchen, I am their target reader.

Like Bourdan, Sheehan enjoys portraying not only how horrible the kitchen is, but also how horrible he and everyone else is as well. In the hands of a lesser writer, this material--particularly the consumption of vast quantities of drugs and alcohol--would grow tiresome. But he's good at capt
Ginger Williams
This is my favorite kind of book - one that gives you insight into a totally different way of life than mine.
Jason Sheehan is a Cook, mind you - not a Chef. There's a big difference. Cooks like Jason are the guys (almost always men) who crank out the burgers and the eggs over easy and the pizza day after day. They stand on their feet for 12 hours at a time. They cut themselves with knives and burn themselves with hot oil. They get hot and sweaty and swear at each other and, at times, punch pumm
"Chefs are the new rock stars" is a catchphrase that gains velocity every time Andrew Zimmern plugs his mouth with an obscure, barely dead mollusk or the broiled sex organs of an animal unique to New Zealand. The cast of "America's Next Top Chef" is a limping gallery of jail house tattoos, stealing pulls off a bottle of cooking sherry in the aftermath of a challenge. Walk through the alley of a city's restaurant district, and you'll find upward of three suspect-looking dudes in dirty whites park ...more
Ashland Mystery Oregon
What could have been another whiney, self-promoting diatribe turned out to be a humble, well-written coming of age story, as Sheehan matures in the kitchen, in his relationships, and as a food writer.

There's more of the kitchen management and logistics in Sheehan's work than I usually find in this genre, and it's fascinating to see the complexity of the work.

Delightful! and some vignettes are just hilarious! Sheehan well deserves his James Beard award, and I just hope that he's got another cou
Jul 03, 2009 Julie added it
I just started reading again and this is the first. Just a prologue and one chapter in, and I am captured. It is well written and I am excited to get back to reading. More later...
I must begin this review with a short deviation from the book. About two months ago, my husband and I adopted a labradoodle, Declan, from the local shelter. He has been a perfect gentleman in our house which means of course at some point, his true personality would emerge somewhere, somehow. He was waiting to know that a.) we loved him enough to not return him and b.) the perfect opportunity. Declan found his moment.

Almost all of the books I read come from the library. Sometimes my local librar
I always suspected that restaurant kitchens were staffed by the kind of people that work nights in hospitals. That is to say, oddballs, misfits, misanthropes, loners and losers, the kind of people that cover the bald spot on the back of their head with shoe polish or turn tricks for their second job. As a veteran of hundreds of night shifts in a big city hospital, I can attest to the fact that lots of night shift workers don't quite fit in with those more conventional and stable souls that labor ...more
Sheehan is a good writer. I've enjoyed his work as a restaurant critic for Denver's Westword for awhile and he's managed to take that edgy style of his and expand it into a full book.

This book chronicles his life working in kitchens--not famous ones, just regular ol' restaurants. At times, it got a bit redundant. I wanted to say, okay, we get it: cooking on a line during the rush is like going into battle and the guys who do it are tough. The book could have standed a bit of editing--too many si
I liked this book, three stars but was pretty close to giving it an "ok", two stars instead. Sheehan's odyssey as a kitchen worker to chef to writer is very interesting, and I was especially keen to learn about his upstate NY experiences, Ithaca College, Wegman's, and Rochester. His shall I say colorful language just got boring after a while. It started sounding forced and phony. I read some of this word by word and some of it I skimmed. For me it was a real yes and no sort of book.
I really liked Sheehan's perspective on kitchens and restaurants (particularly after just finishing a story by a captain at Per Se). His experience and style is similar to Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" but Sheehan's story feels more real somehow. Bourdain worked in some of the best restaurants in New York while Sheehan worked at all types of restaurants - fine dining, fish shacks, chains, mom and pop pizza joints and everything in between. If you've never worked in food service, you ...more
Graham Swalling
Jason Sheehan captured audiences nationwide as the highly revered, contagious and confrontational 'Food Critic' for Denver's Westword magazine. His literary work for Westword was far removed from classical approaches; focused rather on the experiences that surround food more so than the cooking techniques and execution of local chefs and restaurants.

A few of my favorites pieces by him:

Mama's House - Eating Ethiopian Food with Denver's Ethiopian Population's Mother
Ross Cumming
Had never heard of Jason Sheehan before but I've enjoyed chef's autobiographies (Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsey) in the past and when I saw this one on Kindle for 99p I thought I would give it a go.
I quite enjoyed the start of the book where Sheehan describes how he got into cooking, by accident it seems and his early years working in a pizza parlour and a Chinese restaurant, that doubled as a gambling den and hosted the local swingers club. Both of which Sheehan indulged in. But then he goes o
in "Cooking Dirty", Jason Sheehan digs into the same territory that Anthony Bourdain wrote about in his first book, "Kitchen Confidential", but it is a generation later, and if anything, the kitchens of America are even more violent, crazy, and disgusting than when Bourdain was working his way up the ranks. Sheehan sometimes goes over the top with his prose, but he gives an honest and open telling of his very erractic life and career, sharing intimate stories of his successes and failures in var ...more
I probably would have given this four stars because it had lots of fun descriptions about the chaotic life of a journeyman cook, and he's a really vivid writer. I liked the contrast between his gritty stories and the foo-foo image of the celebu-chefs I see on the Food Network. However, I yanked a star because I was annoyed by his frequent comparisons of a busy kitchen to an actual battlefield (pirates and outlaws are also cited frequently). He claims that cooks love "Apocalypse Now" and Michael ...more
There were a lot of things I really liked about this book. It was bursting with interesting stories about crazy nights in the kitchen, and Jason Sheehan is amazing at providing endless details and examples to illustrate a point.

On the other hand, I think Cooking Dirty needed some serious editing. Sheehan's style includes a lot of ranting and raving-- which gives him his unique voice, but at the same time, gets ultra-repetitive. There were multiple lengthy musings on every element of restaurant l
There is only one Anthony Bourdain and, as necessary as Tony is to the world of culinary literature, it is likely a good thing. He took the pants down on what really goes on in many restaurant kitchens in "Kitchen Confidential" in 2000. He stunned a lot of readers who had no idea what was happening on the other side of the swinging door between the dining room and the kitchen. His stories are profane, rough, sexual, alcoholic, drug-dependent and occasionally disgusting. So what made Jason Sheeha ...more
Kevin Schmidt
"Cooking Dirty" appeared on the New Arrivals shelf at my college library, and I'll admit that I checked it out because of the cover and title. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the eloquent, captivating, and sometimes disgusting tale Sheehan spins about his rise in the chef profession. "Cooking Dirty" is peppered (no pun intended) with side-splitting anecdotes -- I couldn't keep from laughing when reading aloud several passages to my girlfriend. Sheehan makes your mouth water with descripti ...more
We met Jason Sheehan when he visited the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. You can listen to him talk about "Cooking Dirty" here:

About this podcast:
Jason Sheehan, the food writer for Denver’s Westword, won a James Beard Award in 2003. His essay “There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Barbecue” was reprinted in the book "This I Believe," and his work has appeared in Best American Food Writing for the past five years. Sheehan reads from and discusses his new me
This book can probably be described as the biography of a trainwreck hurting in and out of a commercial kitchen. I am often bemused by people who work a hard, thankless, underpaid and stressful job that guts them from the inside out, yet they would do nothing else than go back into the fray. There is no doubt in my mind that I would break within five minutes if asked to work in a kitchen. Or possibly punch someone out, then break down. I can't handle heat and people screaming in my face, let alo ...more
I liked this book better when it was called Kitchen Confidential.

Or, in the words of someone whose words I wish were mine and am thus appropriating, upon glancing at the book jacket: "One of the great bad boy chefs. An infamous user of hair gel."

Everything about this book was teeth-grindingly predictable, from the mixture of bravado and self-deprecation, to the misogyny and substance abuse, to the war, mafia porn, and Apocalypse Now references.

This, of course, didn't come as a total surprise.
Karen Wherlock
Fun book to read if you want to learn how someone earns their way to chef without having gone to school. Jason is now a food writer in Denver, and although I never tasted his food, I think his writing is wonderful. I laughted outloud several times and from my understanding of professional kitchens, this is a pretty true to life portrayal of being a line cook at diners and dives, and eventually nicer restaurants. Not just about kitchens, the book also follows Jason's health issues, and his relati ...more
Joseph Carley
Cooking Dirty is Sheehan's autobiographical account of his directionless years drifting from kitchen to kitchen. Told in the style of Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, Cooking Dirty describes life in the kitchens at otherwise non-descript restaurants in a manner that is often raw and often outrageous. Sheehan's writing is colorful and funny, but also overindulgent and full of bravado (although he is ultimately a relatively modest narrator). The reflections on his personal life were frustr ...more
Really, people... only 3.25 stars, on average? Well, I'll round up. Yes, Jason Sheehan walks the "what life's really like in a kitchen" line that Anthony Bourdain and others have walked before. Yes, he's a little too interested in trying to shock you, and show you how he's hit bottom... again. Yes, he is entirely narcissistic. But if you actually *do* want to know what it's like in a kitchen, you'll get more from this book than from a year solid watching Food Network. And having read his reviews ...more
It was surprising that it took him until page 300 to mention Anthony Bourdain, since this book was extremely reminiscent of Kitchen Confidential...of course, I read that one so long ago I could be mis-remembering, but this one seems more....just More. Fun to read if you've already read Bourdain...but I'd read Kitchen Confidential first. This one, thoroughly rooted in kitchens, was less about the restaurant biz and more about Sheehan's personal journey - which was interesting, true, and he does h ...more
Jason Sheehan's intimate view of the raucous goings-on in the galleys of short-order cooks is a good romp for a weekend. Not for the squeamish or those who are obsessed with cleanliness. Written in the working man's vernacular, Jason lets us gawk over his shoulder at events that had me laughing out loud at times, and reading with my mouth gaping wide in surprise at others. The story drags a little towards the end when the focus turns to his love life. Overall, a fun read whose redeeming quality ...more
If you want a by-the-numbers "my days in the kitchen" story, this ain't it. Sheehan's a writer more than a chef. He's honest, vulnerable, funny, in love with language; he brings the profane, singleminded, crushingly repetitive world of a kitchen to sweaty, reeking life. He also nails the fear and swagger of an all-consuming career, but illustrates it with the kind of humility you only pick up after something you love completely breaks you. So no, it's not a clear story arc; it's a meditation, me ...more
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