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Burn the Place: A Memoir

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  608 ratings  ·  104 reviews
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
Hardcover, 250 pages
Published July 16th 2019 by Agate Midway
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Average rating 3.81  · 
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 ·  608 ratings  ·  104 reviews

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Kasa Cotugno
I chose this because some of my most beloved books, beginning with Kitchen Confidential, have been memoirs by established chefs and Iliana Regan's arc seemed to echo that of Gabrielle Hamilton. Yes there are similarities. Both come from large, unconventional families, with a strong background in earth to table cooking, both have college degrees in writing but not in food services, they share sexual identities and have michelin starred restaurants that thrive thanks to their instinctual style of ...more
Feb 01, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had never heard of this author or her two famous restaurants before reading this book. I just saw it pop up in my library app and thought I would give it a shot. It's a pretty straightforward memoir of this chef's life. She grew up on a farm, struggled with her identity and sexuality, became an alcoholic and drug addict, then realized she was a good cook and tried to turn it into a career.

At one point near the end she talks about other chefs who have written memoirs and how they are very
Megan Prokott
Jul 05, 2019 rated it liked it
I felt very moved by Regan’s honesty and her ability to forge her own path throughout this book, but especially as she speaks about her sexuality and the trials of being gay in rural American. I look around Chicago today and see a flourishing Pride parade, rainbows on every corner, and outspoken acceptance of the queer population. It’s easy to forget that things weren’t always that way and things still aren’t that way in so many places. Reading about Regan’s conflict with her own gender as a ...more
Oct 12, 2019 rated it liked it
This memoir by Ilana Regan shows her life through glimpses, from childhood self proclaimed hillbilly, on to substance abusing young adult, and finally to a successful chef/restaurant owner, with reflection in all three sections on her sexuality. The book was an entertaining read but I would not be a target reader, since I no longer am interested reading about the rock and roll lifestyle of others. For me the charm was in the less dramatic moments where the author began hunting and sautéing ...more
Katie/Doing Dewey
Oct 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Summary:A fascinating memoir, enjoyable both for the author's emotional account of her struggles and for the cool technical details of her career.

Iliana Regan is perhaps best known for her Michelin-starred restaurant, Elizabeth, but I first heard of her as the author of this National Book Award long-listed memoir. The book blurb sells it as searingly honest, which it is. It covers the sort of difficult topics the phrase 'searingly honest' conjures, like Iliana's struggle with alcoholism and her
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Thanks to Agate Midway for the ARC at BEA 2019!

I wasn't particularly interested in this book at first, because I thought it was just a chef's memoir. I sure am glad I got it and read it anyways, because it is so much more than that! This book is Regan's memoir about growing up with gender dysphoria, facing discrimination, homo/transphobia, and general bullying growing up. It then shows Iliana struggle living paycheck to paycheck and struggle with drug addiction in her 20s as she tries to make it
Nov 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Five stars for the first 75 pages. Then it just...

It's all over the place and sometimes that works and sometimes it's like you're eating something rich and wonderful and then they just keep feeding it to you.
Kathe Koja
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I always read for voice, and Iliana Regan's got voice, and verve, to burn. Reading this puts you at her table, wherever that table is, invites you to feast or to fight, and all the while shares everything she's got. I don't read chef's memoirs and I don't care about fine dining and I loved this.
Like Iliana Regan, I was raised a short hop off US 421 in northwest Indiana, in the middle of nowhere, with limited role models for who or what I might eventually become. We were 90 minutes or less from Chicago, where we would both spend much of our adult years, but worlds away.

“Burn the Place” reminds me that so much of our becoming is the struggle of kids in such an environment – to work our way through and out of such landscapes, and for some of us, back home again, to the exact places we
Jan 29, 2020 rated it liked it
I live in Chicago. The Michelin-starred restaurant Elizabeth is a local hero; I celebrated an anniversary at Kitsune. Had I read the book reviews before diving in, I would have realized this is not so much a culinary memoir as it is one woman’s struggle with drugs, alcohol, and her sexual and personal identity.

As a lesbian coming-of-age story for folks in and around “The Industry,” it is frank and sincere in capturing a moment in Chicago’s history. I lived, apparently, just down the street from
Dec 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Regan’s upbringing is so interesting and I got a real sense of how the artist as chef was formed. Will return to this book later.
Dan Gibson
Nov 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
This is culinary memoir (or memoir-ish) #4 of 2019, which isn't super surprising, I suppose, considering how much time I think about food at work (and let's face it, in life). Regan's struggle to develop a sense of self is definitely interesting and more contemporary than the standard chef's rise to prominence story, especially since there are hints throughout of how she arrived on her "new gatherer" ethos, but I wish the writing were a little better, I suppose? The narrative is clunky at times ...more
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"The best book i've read in a long ass time." — me, in a text just now to my friends

This memoir was SO GOOD. Memoirs are so tricky. I can always tell when authors want to seem relatable, or self-deprecating, or funny. It's hard to be authentic, I get that, but I can spot a put-on tone a MILE AWAY.

Iliana gave me none of that. She was brutally honest about herself, whether she sounded "right" or not. I picked this book up for two reasons: first, I noticed the mushrooms on the cover. Second, the
Donna Lee
Nov 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is marketed as a “culinary memoir” that chronicles Iliana Regan’s journey from cooking and foraging on the family farm to opening her Michelin-starred restaurant Elizabeth in Chicago within walking distance of my home. While the book is that, it is also the story of growing up the youngest of four girls in an embattled household, her trying to come to terms with her sexuality, and her struggle with alcohol addiction. Iliana is a born storyteller, and I can hope that she has many more ...more
Dec 14, 2019 added it
Regan is very cool and very inspiring and has overcome a wild amount of shit to get to where she is now, and if you think about the field she's in... it's basically a miracle that she's done so well. that said, I wish this book was better written! better structured! grad school has undoubtedly broken my brain, but I felt myself nitpicking the language throughout.
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
A bit sporadic but ultimately very satisfying. Midwest culinary memoirs resonate with me despite the fact that I myself am the type of home cook the views beans on toast as an acceptable daily supper
Jan 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
A chef memoir unlike any other I have read. Truthful, vulnerable and unflinching. The author doesn't seem to care what we think of her, but not in the "whatever, bro" bravado way. More in the "my life decisions have led me to this corner and I will fight my way out" way.
Fucking finally! She takes full responsibility for her actions and works to change in a sincere and meaningful way. No signs of toxic sobriety anywhere.
It has stayed with me since reading it. And obviously the mushrooms! <3

Kevin Greene
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’m starting to think that “nonfiction by womxn with alcoholism” may be my favorite subgenre of literature.

In a year that’s brought Maggie Nelson and Leslie Jamison into my life, Iliana Regan’s memoir joins a generous and empathetic inner circle. Regan has a special place in it as well as the owner and head chef of multiple restaurants in my current home of choice, Chicago. Albeit restaurants I cannot afford to go to but still.

Regan gives a fleet and charming, though actively and intentionally
Nov 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, nonfic
I think I have driven everyone around me to distraction talking about this book, and how I want to go eat at Elizabeth or spend a weekend at the Milkweed Inn. It's not just because the food all sounds amazing, and the thought and care that goes in to how Regan develops recipes is evident.
It's not just because she's a little nerdy (loves Lego and video games).
It's because kid and teen Iliana sounds so much like little me that this book almost flayed me.
I may not have had the alcohol allergy, or
Eve Studnicka
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a chef memoir for those of us who hate chef memoirs. Regan subverts every dead horse cliche of the bad boy rockstar chef narrative, giving us instead a tale of rural queerness, escapism, wry humor, and honest reflection. Her voice - like her cooking - is tender and bold with an approachable warmth, a touch of whimsy, and an embracement of darkness that honors to the brutality and grit of a life lived without compromise. She substitutes ego for vulnerability, coyly flipping off the ...more
Jul 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love memories and I love food so reading this book was a no-brainer. The author was an Indianan farm girl who was pathologically shy and thought she was a boy. She grew up to be an alcoholic, lesbian, server, cook, chef, and Michelin star restaurant owner. Her story is a bumpy one but worth the read. I particularly liked the beginning of the book. In it, she describes her life on her magical farm and the food it produced.
Her description of hunting, finding, picking and cooking Chanterelles
Dec 20, 2019 rated it liked it
More like 3-1/2 stars, given how the writing picks up in the last third. She’s clear she didn’t want to write a typical chef memoir so there’s not as much about cooking and food as I like, but her writing is vivid and her background is certainly different from the norm. Also I wasn’t expecting to learn about frog gigging: spearing them with a trident and peeling off their skin—to eat.
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Iliana Regan is the owner of the Michelin Star restaurant “Elizabeth”, named for her sister who died in a jail holding cell. She was exposed to food a lot as a child- they lived on a farm and grew, foraged, baked, and preserved most of their food, but until the point her mother rebelled at having to do all that and they moved to a city. Oh, and they also helped out in Regan’s grandmother’s restaurant, too. Little wonder her mother got exhausted! But Regan loved working with food. When she grew ...more
Jill Meyer
Jun 21, 2019 rated it really liked it

Creativity in a person can manifest itself in many, many ways. For Iliana Regan, the author of "Burn the Place", she's both creative in the kitchen and at a computer. Her book, a memoir of the rather interesting times in her life, as well as the people involved, seems to be as honest as a memoir writer can be. Regan is the owner of "Elizabeth", a Michelin one-star restaurant in Chicago, as well as a couple of other eateries. To gain a Michelin star as early as she did, Regan must have come up
Jeannie Boutelle
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Well, for a period of time, I tried to dine at Iliana Regan's restaurant Elisabeth each season. After reading this book, I now realize I have been pronouncing her name wrong this whole time, it is Il-ay-nuh and I have been saying Ill-ee-ah-nuh.
After finishing this book, I said to myself "wow, it is amazing she is still alive and not dead. She must have a guardian angel". This is a book about addiction, sexual identity and coming of age and of listening to that voice inside each of us that says
This book packs a punch, it's full of a kind of raw honesty about brutal situations that fills the reader with pride when it reaches the successes in Regan's life. There's no wallowing in self pity or trying to put some grand moral lesson on the hard times, the good and the bad are all facets of her life. It's direct and bold and infused with love for the people in her life.

I was close to loving this book but the style held me back. I'm not an audiobook reader but this one made me wish I were.
Dec 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: cooking-food
I love chef memoirs even if I'm not familiar with the chef, but this one was not great. Iliana Regan grew up in rural Indiana and always felt out of place. She was gay before she really understood what that meant. She grew up on a farm and was raised growing vegetables, canning food, hunting, foraging, and cooking. While her family was super dysfunctional, she did inherit a love of food and inherent cooking skills. Alcoholism and addiction ran in her family and she was an alcoholic by high ...more
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it
This memoir of a young Chicago based chef has some interesting parts. It is mostly about her youth, adolescent and young adult years. She struggled with alcoholism, as did other members of her family. While I sympathize with the effort the narrator makes to get and stay sober, especially in the restaurant world, I tend to find descriptions of one drunken incident after another tedious. She also writes of her learning to negotiate relationships with others from a position of gender nonconformity, ...more
Phillip Oliver
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Regan, the chef and owner of Michelin-starred Elizabeth Restaurant and Kitsune in Chicago, writes about growing up on a family farm in Indiana with three sisters. She grew up exploring the woods around her home and learning about mushrooms, flowers and other wild foods that she would later incorporate into her restaurant menus. Her life story wasn't all that idyllic however. She knew she was different from a very early age and describes the confusion she felt with gender issues. Later, her ...more
Steph Winter
Feb 04, 2020 rated it liked it
This author was highlighted in the New York Times recently and, after my brother-in-law shared the article with me, he immediately bought me a copy of her book thinking that her life somewhat paralleled my own. My evaluation? Not so much except for several details. But certain things are true: Iliana Regan is a good writer and an incredibly creative, talented, and highly regarded forager and chef. Her journey to achieve that status is filled with lots of alcohol and sex and gender exploration ...more
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