Cooking Dirty: Eight days and counting
Lev Grossman is my new best friend.
Yeah, that Time magazine. And yeah, little ol' me and my little ol' book.
But it's actually not just because he wrote about me that I now dig the guy. It's because this is a guy, ensconced as he is amid the desks and bylines and serious news-gatherers of Time magazine, who still seems to get what kitchens are about. It's a rare thing, trust me. And he knows his source material.
Can I give you a little taste? Sure I can. This isn't about me (because that would be tacky, right?), but rather, here's a bit of Lev Grossman (my BFF) writing about George Orwell:
The hero of George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London makes his living as a plongeur, which is what French people call the dishwasher/gofer/house elf in a restaurant. He starts off at a hotel in Paris: "The kitchen was like nothing I had ever seen or imagined -- a stifling, low-ceilinged inferno of a cellar, red-lit from the fires, and deafening with oaths and the clanging of pots and pans." The book recounts his descent into the culinary hell of a busy professional kitchen: a dirty, angry, vulgar, drunken, pressurized little world that's oddly invisible to outsiders. "There sat the customers in all their splendor," he observes, "spotless tablecloths, bowls of flowers, mirrors and gilt cornices and painted cherubim; and here, just a few feet away, we in our disgusting filth."
Yeah, baby. That's a guy who gets it. Well, I mean Orwell did first. But Grossman gets that Orwell got it and that's good enough for me.
Oh, and also? It doesn't hurt that he happened to love my book. Here's another little quote. And because yes, I am that tacky, this one has everything to do with me:
The new crop of chef memoirs includes a rather haughty cooking-school diary (Katherine Darling's Under the Table) and the life and times of a pastry chef (Dalia Jurgensen's Spiced) -- naughtier than you'd expect -- but the best of them by a mile is by a former chef of no particular distinction named Jason Sheehan, now an extraordinarily good food writer. Cooking Dirty is his account of a career spent largely at what he calls "the low end of the culinary world": late-night shifts at diners, bars and neighborhood joints. Some of it is pure drudgery -- like prepping a "literal ton of corned-beef briskets" at an Irish pub the week before St. Patrick's Day -- but when the orders start pouring in, the pace and chaos and heat in even a low-end kitchen somehow fuse into a kind of mass lunatic joy. "I am God of the box," he writes, "the brain-damaged Lord Commander of a kingdom of fifty feet by five and made entirely of stainless steel, industrial tile, knives, sweat and fire."
I think I'm y going to have a T-shirt made that says: Chef of No Particular Distinction, with an arrow pointing up at my mile-wide smile. I don't think Grossman has any idea of how happy that one little line made me. Sure, I liked it when he called me extraordinary, too, but really, to this day, I remain most proud of having been a Chef of No Particular Distinction back in the days when that, alone, was enough; when one's talents and success were determined more by the hash-marks of grill burns running up the arm and the company one kept than by one's publicity head shot and new Food Network contract.
That's what Cooking Dirty is about, after all: the days when cooks cooked and everyone else just fucked the hell off.
The issue of Time magazine with me in it is on the stands right now. In some places, so is my book. Those of you who made pre-orders online (may the food gods bless every damn-fool one of you) should be getting your copies over the next couple of days. And don't forget: Big party, Katie Mullen's, July 1, 5:30 p.m. , open to all comers.
I've got some more events, some more news, lots more weirdness expected over the next few weeks. But this is enough for right now. Today is a good day. I think, for a change, I'll quit while I'm ahead.
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