I can. She said. Want to see?
That’s my favorite bit of nonsense from the wonderfully twisted chef bio called Cooking Dirty about one man’s wasted life in food service. Along the way he learns to cook meat, do endless bumps of coke, drink near lethal doses of alcohol, and have to prove that he is a really lousy pastry chef. It’s the book that Anthony Bourdain would have written if he hadn’t pulled so many punches in Kitchen Confidential.
Cooking Dirty makes most of Tony’s adventures seem downright tame and boring-even the ones where he finds himself caught behind enemy lines during a third world revolution or two.
Our hero in Cooking Dirty is a nasty bit of business who goes from mopping floors in a neighborhood pizza joint to being an Executive Chef-sort of-at a top line restaurant. Along the way he learns how to use a knife, how to stay on his feet for 16 hours a day, how to sling fried fish from a 140 degree kitchen and how to royally fuck up his life.
Oh yeah, then he discovers Food Writing.
It’s filled with the mad rush and desires of working in a kitchen and facing down a rush-being a line cook, a chef, doing endless prep, and learning how to cook really well, for all the good that does really does him. He talks about the proper way to hold a knife-which is to hold the handle gently with four fingers and pinch the blade between the thumb and forefinger and then glide it through whatever you are cutting-or something like that. He talks about sex with waitresses, beers with dishwashers, and endless hours swapping war stories at after hour bars where chefs like to hang out after work.
It’s an interesting story that wanders all over America, from one nasty hellhole of a kitchen to another, with frequent trips back to the Hero’s personal Mecca of Rochester, New York. He also meets that woman who can put her feet behind her head and he seems to stick with her. After a couple of near death experiences where his beloved kitchens take him down for the count, he decides that maybe he should think about doing something else with his time.
As someone who has wanted to be a writer most of his life, but never made that first step of actually being a writing, I tend to hate people like Stephanie Meyers-who said she banged out Twilight over the summer for a lark-and people like Jason Sheehan-who walked into a newspaper office one day and asked to be the Food Critic-and they hired him.
Ok, anyone who has anything to do with any kind of newspaper or magazine-I’d like to be a food critic or a film critic. Thanks.
So Jason moves from writing for a crappy freebie newspaper to writing for a good freebie newspaper and in short order wins a James Beard award for food writing. Which is kind of like writing a book over the summer and having it become a world wide obsession-though I guess the money is not quite as good. When I picked up Cooking Dirty I had no idea that he was a food writer-I love the cover and thought it would be a bit like Kitchen Confidential. Jason does have the grace to thank Mr Bourdain for his life.
But really, the whole food writing thing is such a tiny part of Cooking Dirty, it’s mostly about booze, drugs, sex, more drugs, more booze, personal injury, poverty, illegal aliens, drugs, sex, and booze. Did I mention the drugs and booze? Oh yeah, he smokes a lot as well.
Along the way he learns the fine art of French cooking and mentions the great Georges Auguste Escoffier-he also drops all kinds of ten dollar words and obscure references into the mix to show that he is, in fact, a writer. To prove he is a real man he generously peppers his stories with the usual suspects of the 7 words you can’t say on TV and does his fair share of gay bashing and racial profiling. He covers all his bad behavior by stating that this is the way it is-the world on the other side of kitchen door is not a world for the faint of heart.
I liked it, right up until the time the loser makes good. The fairy tale ending is reality, but the death in a gutter ending would have made a lot more sense.