Not long after Iliana Regan’s celebrated debut, Burn The Place, became the first food-related title in four decades to become a National Book Award finalist, her career as a Michelin-star-winning chef took a sharp turn north. Long based in Chicago, she and her new wife, Anna, decided to create a culinary destination, the Milkweed Inn, located in Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula, where much of the food served to their guests would be foraged by Regan herself in the surrounding forest and nearby river. Part fresh challenge, part escape, Regan’s move to the forest was also a return to her rural roots, in an effort to deepen the intimate connection to nature and the land that she’d long expressed as a chef, but experienced most intensely growing up.
As Regan explores the ancient landscape of Michigan’s boreal forest, her stories of the land, its creatures, and its dazzling profusion of plant and vegetable life are interspersed with her and Anna’s efforts to make a home and a business of an inn that’s suddenly, as of their first full season there in 2020, empty of guests due to the covid-19 pandemic. She discovers where the wild blueberry bushes bear tiny fruit, where to gather wood sorrel, and where and when the land’s different mushroom species appear—even as surrounding parcels of land are suddenly and violently decimated by logging crews that obliterate plant life and drive away the area’s birds. Along the way she struggles not only with the threat of covid, but also with her personal and familial legacies of fear, addiction, violence, and obsession—all while she tries to conceive a child that she and her immune-compromised wife hope to raise in their new home.
With Burn The Place, Regan announced herself as a writer whose extravagant, unconventional talents matched her abilities as a lauded chef. In Fieldwork, she digs even deeper to express the meaning and beauty we seek in the landscapes, and stories, that reveal what informs, shapes, and nurtures our lives.