Iliana Regan takes us back to her roots in rural Indiana in this memoir and then, eventually, to Chicago as she opens up her Michelin-starred restaurant, Elizabeth. Regan brings her readers close as she remembers her disassociation from her gender, the destruction caused by alcoholism, her early roots in all things natural food on her father’s farm, and all the other pieces of her life that have lead her to success as a chef and entrepreneur.
Usually when one hears about a chef-written memoir, images of Anthony Bourdain, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Julia Child come to mind. But, even though Regan talks about being a head chef and brings her readers into the world of her restaurants, including Elizabeth, this book is not a chef memoir. It is the story of a person who has faced more challenges than many and has turned them into a beautiful life.
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 very small child and watching how this manifested throughout her life in different ways was really moving to me and, I would imagine, not the easiest thing to share. Burn the Place is a very honest, personal account that can be considered more in the LGBTQ canon than in the food lit collections.
Tonally, Regan’s honesty and bluntness radiates through this entire book. I never felt like she was holding anything back and she taps into real emotions and feelings about things like the death of her sister and the divorce of her parents. Her writing style is jarringly choppy at times, as is her bluntness, but I think with this type of book it’s important to remember that these are real people and the value comes from the story.
I really don’t like to write reviews about memoirs, but I did want to make sure I gave this book its moment. People’s lives are their own lives and I don’t enjoy feeling like I have any kind of power over that by discussing their life from a critical position, so I’ll end here
Overall? Burn the Place is a courageous, unapologetic look at one woman taking hardships and challenges and churning it all into creativity and artistic expression. Iliana Regan has poured her talents into her restaurants for so many years, and I’m really glad she decided to shift some of that creativity into this memoir.
Thank you to Agate Publishing for sending me a gifted ARC of this book!
PUBLICATION DETAILS: 978-1572842670; Agate Midway; July 16, 2019; 250 pp. Essay Collection / Memoir.