Iliana Regan is the self-taught Michelin-starred chef of the restaurant Elizabeth, named for her beloved sister whose tragic death shocked her into turning her own life around. But this is not a born-again saga marked by clean edges, evil misogynistic villains and righteous loving saviors. It is a raw, acid-edged, brutally honest tale of growing up gay on an Indiana farm to loving religious Christians who teach her to honor the wilderness and forage the forests for ingredients to prepare meals as wild as her imagination. Shy and awkward, Iliana turned to alcohol and cocaine for ballast, Her addictions to drugs and sex almost killed her, but her sister’s tragic end forced her to focus her propulsive energy on creating a world of food to honor all that she loves. Sure, she goes to AA meetings and works her tail off, but the heart of of this jagged, powerful memoir is her continuing struggle to overcome the demons of her own creation.
LONGLISTED for the NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
A “blistering yet tender” (Publishers Weekly) memoir that chronicles one chef’s journey from foraging on her family’s Midwestern farm to running her own Michelin-starred restaurant and finding her place in the world.
Iliana Regan grew up the youngest of four headstrong girls on a small farm in Indiana. While gathering raspberries as a toddler, Regan learned to only pick the ripe fruit. In the nearby fields, the orange flutes of chanterelle mushrooms beckoned her while they eluded others.
Regan’s profound connection with food and the earth began in childhood, but connecting with people was more difficult. She grew up gay in an intolerant community, was an alcoholic before she turned twenty, and struggled to find her voice as a woman working in an industry dominated by men. But food helped her navigate the world around her—learning to cook in her childhood home, getting her first restaurant job at age fifteen, teaching herself cutting-edge cuisine while hosting an underground supper club, and working her way from front-of-house staff to running her own kitchen.
Regan’s culinary talent is based on instinct, memory, and an almost otherworldly connection to ingredients, and her writing comes from the same place. Raw, filled with startling imagery and told with uncommon emotional power, Burn the Place takes us from Regan’s childhood farmhouse kitchen to the country’s most elite restaurants in a galvanizing tale that is entirely original, and unforgettable.
About the Author
Iliana Regan is the Michelin-star chef and prior owner of Elizabeth restaurant, which she turned over to her employees in 2020 in order to run the Milkweed Inn bed and breakfast in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Her debut memoir, Burn the Place, was longlisted for the National Book Award, the first time a food writer has been nominated since Julia Child. In addition to working as the chef and owner of Milkweed Inn, she recently earned an MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is the author of Fieldwork.
“Perhaps the definitive Midwest drunken-lesbian food memoir.” —Kim Severson, The New York Times
"A remarkable exploration of the [memoir] form... Burn the Place is a 'chef memoir' only in the sense that the author turned out to be a chef. More rightly, it belongs on a shelf with the great memoirs of addiction, of gender ambivalence and queer coming-of-age, of the grand disillusionment that comes from revisiting, as a clear-eyed adult, the deceptive perfection of childhood." —The New Yorker
“This raw and emotional memoir testifies to the power of persistence and grit. With vivid description, we explore Regan’s almost inborn connection to food and the earth, her rise as a queer woman in a male dominated industry, and her journey to sobriety.” —Real Simple
"Regan is a compelling narrator, serving up her life story with the same ease, deftness, and creativity she seems to apply to her cooking." —The Atlantic
“With this deeply personal work, Iliana reminds us that there is great strength in vulnerability. Her story is one of resilience, determination, and vision.” —René Redzepi, chef and co-owner of Noma
"Iliana Regan's story is a memorable tale, with prose that deeply conveys the resilience and intensity she needed to find her undeniable success. Burn the Place will serve as inspiration for those in and outside of the kitchen." —Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernardin
"Iliana's perspective is honest and unprocessed and speaks true to her own experiences. Burn the PLace takes us through the incredible events that shaped her identity as a person and a chef. Iliana is one of the best chefs I've ever known." —David Chang, chef and founder of Momofuku
“[A] blistering yet tender story of a woman transforming Midwestern cooking, in a fresh voice all her own.” —Publishers Weekly
“It turns out that Iliana Regan writes the way she cooks: with a voice that’s bold and soulful, tender and tough, impossible to ignore, and utterly her own. Burn the Place is much more than an account of hustling in the kitchen. It’s a story about identity and addiction. It’s about getting creative and becoming a boss. And it’s full of scenes of gothic drama that still give me goosebumps when I think of them.” —Jeff Gordinier, author of Hungry
“The dynamic story of a dynamic life.” —Ms.
“What bold new voice is this? Iliana Regan is out to shake up the literary world in the same way she's shaken the culinary world. Unexpected, flavorful, and distinctive, Burn the Place is a debut to savor.” —Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs
“Renowned chef Iliana Regan turns stuffy patriarchal stereotypes upside down. She is self-taught, charismatic, delightfully foul-mouthed, and utterly devoid of pretension as she parallels her ascent in the culinary world with a past strewn with AA chips, jail cell stints, and brutal family losses. This groundbreaking memoir reinvents the well-worn trope of the “bad boy” superstar chef, presenting us instead with a palpably vulnerable, complicatedly feminist, and sexy-queer-girl genius who takes no prisoners, including herself. Regan’s wild rags-to-Michelin story has appeal far beyond the “foodie” market, particularly among those hungry for tales of unapologetic women who have made it entirely on their own terms.” —Gina Frangello, author of A Life in Men and Every Kind of Wanting