cover image Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger: A Memoir

Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger: A Memoir

Lisa Donovan. Penguin Press, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-56094-4

Pastry chef and James Beard Award–winning essayist Donovan writes of her life in the restaurant industry in this feisty confessional. An army brat whose family moved often, Donovan eventually landed in a small coastal Florida town “that felt wholly and destructively permanent.” There, she worked as a server in a ramshackle Italian eatery, a “cigar den housed in a doublewide trailer.” It was “an oasis” for her, and her caring coworkers became her “first kitchen family.” Plans to leave for college and escape an abusive boyfriend ended with an unexpected pregnancy. She sought refuge by teaching herself to bake using library books and soon found “control through food” and “a deep sense of worth and value.” She moved to Nashville, juggled her career with raising her daughter, and became pastry chef at several top restaurants. Despite earning widespread acclaim, male owners and chefs refused to pay her fairly, she writes, and she eventually left restaurant work to cook at yoga retreats and other special events, “breaking away from the... toxic patriarchal culture” to work independently and reclaim “the right to cook and be in a kitchen in a way that felt right to me.” Donovan’s candid, passionate memoir will resonate with anyone who has worked in professional kitchens, and particularly women. (Aug.)