Kitchen Confidential meets gonzo journalism in this memoir of life as a cook.
“If you’re looking for some four-star confessional, for the cooking secrets of master chefs or some effervescent, champagne-and-twinkle-lights twaddle about bright knives, foie gras and sweaty love among the white jackets, go find another book,” Sheehan advises readers at the beginning. Far from the behind-the-scenes tell-alls of peons in the country’s finest dining establishments, the author offers a gritty, sludge-filled account of his decade in a succession of restaurants. From humble beginnings scraping pizza crust off pans in the local pizzeria as a teenager, to a stint bartending at a Chinese joint that secretly doubled as a swinger’s club, to his eventual rise to fame as a James Beard Award–winning food critic, Sheehan recounts the ungarnished truth of millions of restaurant workers—severed digits, delirious nights on the line and easy access to sex, drugs and gourmet food products. Crisp dialogue, vivid descriptions and the urgent pace of the text create the air of a soldier’s tale of a long-ago war, a parallel that the author seems at pains to make. The book often reads like a veteran’s chronicle of a war that won’t stop haunting him. Though lively and mostly entertaining, Sheehan’s accounts of the do-or-die dinner rushes, the unspoken but deeply felt camaraderie of kitchen serfs and the binge drinking and drugging that ease the pain and memories eventually become tiresome, and his transformation from restaurant worker to reviewer is compelling but rushed.
A flawed but reasonably seasoned, intriguing account of life behind the kitchen doors.