When Iliana Regan purchased the Milkweed Inn in Michigan’s Nahma Township together with her spouse, Anna Hamlin, in 2019, she was looking for residence. One would possibly assume the critically acclaimed founding chef of the Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant Elizabeth would possibly really feel overly secluded at Milkweed; the 150-acre property is about deep in Hiawatha Nationwide Forest, a large swath of land the place three Nice Lakes meet on the U.S.-Canadian border. However it was right here that the couple planted roots, planning to run the 12-guest bed-and-breakfast through the six months of the 12 months when the dust highway resulting in the country cabin wasn’t buried below lake-effect snow.
Additionally in 2019, Regan’s first memoir, Burn the Place, which tangled together with her childhood, alcoholism, and path to changing into a chef, was long-listed for the Nationwide Guide Award. (The final meals author named a finalist was Julia Youngster, in 1979.) Regan then pursued an MFA in writing from the Artwork Institute of Chicago, largely attending courses remotely from the Higher Peninsula between hikes and homestead chores on the Milkweed Inn, which she and Hamlin opened in 2020 to weekenders. The aromas, components, and cooking methods she used to attract a following to Milkweed occupy the pages of Regan’s newest memoir, Fieldwork, which paperwork her childhood in northern Indiana and her grownup quest for the comforts and familiarity of residence. Every of Regan’s books describes the turmoil inside her life with each pointed assurance and vulnerability: her oscillation between sobriety and dependancy, her three marriages, her six consecutive Michelin stars, and the loss of life of her beloved sister Elizabeth, for whom the Chicago restaurant was named.
Regan has change into a reference level for contemporary American delicacies: she has been profiled and reviewed by The New Yorker, Fortunate Peach, and The New York Occasions. And the inn is a smashing success, usually promoting out a season upfront. Mixing foraged components with East Asian, Jap European, and midwestern cooking methods, her model is uniquely American. Regan, who by no means went to culinary faculty, found her knack for meals as a baby. “After I labored at some fancy eating places, I knew extra about seasonality and what sure meals have been than loads of the cooks, simply from having grown up round them,” she informed me.
The 43-year-old was raised in Merillville, Indiana, a Chicago suburb, on a ten-acre farm in a working-class household. There she discovered concerning the coloration, taste, odor, and toxicity of black walnuts. She noticed the crooked posture of sure mushrooms and found that not all of them have been edible. She ate do-it-yourself ferments and Maruchan ramen noodles. The final of 4 daughters, she was astute from an early age. “There was loads of consideration to the place the wild crops have been and what they’re doing, after they’re flowering and after they’re ripening,” she says. “And so each time I’m going out on a path foraging, I’ve to always be watching what’s out there.”
Regan’s great-grandmother ran a well-liked restaurant on the town, and though it closed earlier than she was born, Regan considers cooking a birthright. “All my sisters are actually good cooks, and my mother’s a great cook dinner, and my dad’s a great cook dinner,” she says. “Even when I attempted to not do it, this would possibly nonetheless have been the end result—it was going to occur it doesn’t matter what.”
Regan began discovering her means round a kitchen when she was 15, and through her faculty years she labored at a few of Chicago’s most celebrated eating places. She additionally bought pierogi and microgreens at farmers’ markets, and in 2010 started internet hosting a supper membership in her house. Its success attracted buyers, who backed the 2012 launch of Elizabeth. Regan’s cooking, delicate but additionally enjoyable, earned her Meals and Wine journal’s prestigious finest new chef accolade in 2016. After the closing of a short-lived second restaurant and a bakery in 2019, Milkweed introduced itself as a refuge from the each day grind. In 2020, she transferred possession of Elizabeth to 2 of its workers and dedicated herself to her new endeavor 350 miles north. “I got here out right here to the woods as a result of I at all times wished to do one thing that felt a bit bit extra sustainable,” Regan says. “It simply made sense to be cooking for ten individuals every week relatively than 150.”
“I got here out right here to the woods as a result of I at all times wished to do one thing that felt a bit bit extra sustainable. It simply made sense to be cooking for ten individuals every week relatively than 150.”
At Milkweed, a bevy of meals are introduced to visitors who make the pilgrimage for a $750-per-person weekend of fished, foraged, and fermented dishes cooked by Regan within the cabin’s small kitchen. When diners arrive on Friday, she builds a big outside hearth, then conjures up the complete first meal utilizing totally different components of the blaze. Her aim has been to organize “as a lot as I probably may, and use as little as potential, and forage as a lot as I probably may myself.” Within the course of, the menus have remodeled into one thing woven from the land. A current night noticed her serve a dish of younger milkweed pods, fried and served with a ketchup constituted of chokecherries.
Between cooking for her visitors, Regan completed up Fieldwork. “I write exterior, even in winter,” she says. “I’ve simply as a lot consideration deficit as the following individual. After I’m exterior, I’m rather less distracted.” Fieldwork’s vivid, prolonged descriptions of foraging linger on the usually missed connections between individuals and the outside. Regan spends a number of pages detailing the sense reminiscences related to a single second within the woods, like amassing mushrooms together with her father—unearthing highly effective recollections associated to coming of age, trauma, and a way of residence.
Childhood impressions of the homestead maintained by her mother and father, sisters, and tight-knit prolonged household have been elusive for Regan as an grownup. “I’m nonetheless looking for that feeling myself. If I die and go to heaven, it will likely be that farmhouse. I assume that’s my place,” she says. Regardless of cooking in Chicago for the higher a part of 20 years, she now thinks of that metropolis as a spot she was simply “passing by.” Placing down roots at Milkweed helped floor her, she says, satisfying a persistent craving for an origin level. “I’m nonetheless that place, although I’m a bit little bit of this one now, too.”