A singular, powerfully expressive debut memoir that traces one chef’s struggle to find her place and what happens once she does.
Burn the Place is a galvanizing memoir that chronicles Iliana Regan’s journey from foraging on the family farm to running her Michelin-starred restaurant, Elizabeth. Her story is raw like that first bite of wild onion, alive with startling imagery, and told with uncommon emotional power.
Regan grew up the youngest of four headstrong girls on a small farm in Northwest Indiana. While gathering raspberries as a toddler, Regan preternaturally understood to pick just the ripe fruit and leave the rest for another day. In the family’s leaf-strewn fields, the orange flutes of chanterelles beckoned her while they eluded others.
Regan has had this intense, almost otherworldly connection with food and the earth it comes from since her childhood, but connecting with people has always been more difficult. She was a little girl who longed to be a boy, gay in an intolerant community, an alcoholic before she turned twenty, and a woman in an industry dominated by men—she often felt she “wasn’t made for this world,” and as far as she could tell, the world tended to agree. But as she learned to cook in her childhood farmhouse, got her first restaurant job at age fifteen, taught herself cutting-edge cuisine while running a “new gatherer” underground supper club, and worked her way from front-of-house staff to running her own kitchen, Regan found that food could help her navigate the strangeness of the world around her.
Regan cooks with instinct, memory, and an emotional connection to her ingredients that can’t be taught. Written from that same place of instinct and emotion, Burn the Place tells Regan’s story in raw and vivid prose and brings readers into a world—from the Indiana woods to elite Chicago kitchens—that is entirely original and unforgettable.
In this biting debut memoir, Regan, chef and owner of Chicago's Elizabeth and Kitsune restaurants, writes of growing up in a small Indiana town, where she struggled with gender identity and sexuality before finding herself as doyen of Chicago's "new gatherer" culinary movement. Regan depicts her early life in an "outrageously enchanting" farmhouse with her parents and three sisters, including the day she "became a chef" after picking chanterelles with her father (they "smell like the earth but also sweet like apricots and spicy like peppercorns"), taking them home to saut in butter and wine experiences that later influenced the food served at her restaurants. After her parents divorced, Regan coped with the frustrations of growing up gay in a "Red state" by turning to alcohol; after graduating from high school she moved to Chicago, first delivering Chinese food, then hosting at high-end restaurants. After her sister died unexpectedly (she had a seizure while in jail for punching her husband), Regan began selling farm-to-table and foraged foods at farmers markets ("tortillas made with wheat I'd sprouted"). She became known citywide for her pierogis, and after becoming sober she opened her Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant, Elizabeth. Foodies will appreciate this blistering yet tender story of a woman transforming Midwestern cooking, in a fresh voice all her own.