Burn the Place: A Memoir
“Regan ends her memoir with a prayer. Then it is another day, and the reader is hopeful that Iliana will be just fine.”
Reading Iliana Regan’s memoir Burn the Place stimulates a panoply of feelings. Joy, anger, fear, and tension flow from her writing. There exists a stark reality in Regan’s work. The reader absorbs her stories just like mushrooms absorb wine used to enhance their flavor.
Regan was destined to become a chef and then a restauranteur. Growing up on a farm in Indiana, she discovered chanterelles at her grandfather’s farm. Instinctively, she knew that the flavor of these unique mushrooms would be intensified by sautéing them in butter.
The author evolves into a creative adult as seen in her restaurant menu choices. She describes the culinary process as a “high,” perhaps simulating the highs she experiences as an alcoholic. Her creativity arrives anytime and anywhere. Even a trip to the Salvation Army provides a new and different way to cook and present food.
She vividly recounts impactful memories from her childhood that affected her present way of cooking. When she describes her mother creating pasta from scratch with tomatoes gathered from the garden, the reader recognizes the reality and truth of Regan’s words. Foraging is her passion and aptly labels her style of cooking as the “new gatherer.”
At an early age, the author was attracted to girls and struggled with identity issues: “Girls were different, they were complex and exciting. It seemed so much more complicated to accept myself as a female, though, while knowing I was also attracted to females." She shares her conflict with authenticity.
Regan is honest about her battles with alcohol, but she has been sober for a decade. She recounts the death of her sister Elizabeth in a jail cell. The reader will find it painful to read but will respect Regan’s genuineness.
The author opened her restaurant Elizabeth (named after her sister) in Chicago and became a Michelin starred chef. She developed into a culinary superstar. Unlike many celebrity chefs who promote themselves on television, Regan became an esteemed gourmet and restauranteur who has a large following on Instagram and Twitter where photographs of her food are displayed.
Her truthfulness can be frightening if the reader is not accustomed to an honest expression of identity. This memoir shows a woman who has taken a long, hard look at herself and tells us what she has discovered.
Food is always on her mind. She awakens to a mental list of her daily tasks—everything from adding acid to sabayon to calling the IRS.
Regan’s memoir ends with an epilogue describing her daily regimen which includes enjoying the aroma of freshly brewing coffee followed by a self-care regimen. There’s the Lexapro (an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication) and a variety of nutritional supplements. Her skin care regimen would appeal to any reader who embraces organic substances like bee pollen, clay, buttermilk, honey coconut, and almond skins—all products from her restaurant kitchen. She uses a cleanser made with beets and chocolate and a toner made with tomatoes, cucumber, mushrooms, aloe, and turmeric. Nothing is wasted in Iliana Regan’s world.
Regan ends her memoir with a prayer. Then it is another day, and the reader is hopeful that Iliana will be just fine.