Cover Image: Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger

Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Lisa Donovan went from waiting tables in a small-town Italian restaurant to working as a pastry chef with some of the most influential American chefs. Her journey there was not an easy one--she finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, leaves an abusive boyfriend, and works in kitchens that won't pay her fairly and would rather not have women there at all. Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger is the story of Donovan's realization that professional kitchens are often toxic and unsustainable, and her decision to strike out on her own and find a way to be recognized (and make a living) making good food with good people. 

Donovan is a particular kind of narrator--she's angry and belligerent. And she should be; she has faced incredible challenges in her professional and personal life. Perhaps because the experiences were so difficult, Donovan jumps all over the timeline and often spends more time ruminating about her trauma and pulling herself up to the next thing than actually remembering her time baking. This book is a little bit baking memoir, a lot of angry feminist realization, and a whole lot of working hard until you find a place that feels like yours. 

Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger
By Lisa Donovan
Penguin Press August 2020
304 pages
Read via Netgalley
Was this review helpful?
ow, what a powerful book to read before closing out 2021. To say Lisa Donovan (@lisamariedonovan) has persevered would be an understatement and be mindful of the content warnings.
The hunger in this story is palpable. Lisa's desire for more in the world is matched only by her calm and patience as she narrates her audiobook.
This memoir plots her journey to the pastry station and the control of her voice. I first heard of her book she was noted as the pastry chef at Husk, owned by Sean Brock. Once she stopped letting me tell her story, Lisa reshapes her career. Once she escapes the vice grip of the abuse from men in her life, both generational and in the workplace, she grows stronger. As she bonds and builds relationship with women her voice becomes stronger in the story.
#memoir #lisadonovan #foodwriting #foodbooks #nonfiction #nonfictionbooks #bookstagram #readitandeat #bookmarksnbreadsticks
Was this review helpful?
This book was reflectively funny, but critical all at the same time. I found the pace of this book too slow for me and repetitive at times.
I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in memoirs about the pastry industry and likes a book about a strong, courages, flawed, and authentic woman. 🥐 I received a complimentary early copy from net galley and the Publisher. A favorable review was not requested. All opinions here in this review are my own.
Was this review helpful?
This would be a delight to readers with an array of interests.  Donovan is a famous pastry chef, having worked in several prominent restaurants, and the route she traveled to get there is compelling.  Her family history is interesting enough and is written masterfully.  Only a fraction of it has to do with her cooking and baking talent.  In fact, the most gripping stories are entirely personal and not to do with her profession.  A major theme is the difficulty women face in being paid fairly and in getting credit for their work and talent.  Donovan really knows how to structure her tale so that it never gets dull.  A quibble: there are LOTS of f-bombs which I felt took away from the intended emphasis because of this frequency.
If you're a cook or not, this is an enjoyable book that I read in less than 24 hours.
Was this review helpful?
A food memoir a life memoir a book so well written hilarious vat times moving at others.She shares with us what it’s like to be a woman in restaurant kitchens life in and out of the world of food.#netgalley#penguinpress
Was this review helpful?
Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger is a food memoir. It tells of the authors struggles to get ahead in a restaurant kitchen. It tells of her strength in life and what she endured. This is a beautiful book about life, food, and overcoming. 

I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy free of charge. This is my honest and unbiased opinion of it.
Was this review helpful?
One of the great culinary memoirs out there! This should be an instant classic. It is both about her everyday life and a sharp look at being a woman in a kitchen. Skillfully done!
Was this review helpful?
In her Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger, James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Lisa Donovan catalogues the bumpy, difficult path she took in her career: "a steep, uphill climb, with a baby on my hip, and then two, and an early-onset high expectation for my life that I was not willing to forsake."

Starred review, Shelf Awareness for Readers: One part career story, one part food memoir and one part personal reckoning, Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger is so much more than the expected juicy details about life in the fast-paced, demanding kitchens of Sean Brock's Husk in Charleston and Nashville's City House. While Donovan speaks to the role that baking played in saving her life, both literally (providing a career path by which she could provide for her family) and figuratively (giving her hands something to do as she processed abuse, sexual assault and familial relationships over the years), the heart of her work is in her grappling with her story of herself: her womanhood, her motherhood, her family legacy, her race, her place in the South. She recounts the sacrifices she made in the name of her career, only to realize she wasn't willing to make them. She weaves her story together with an excoriating analysis of toxic masculinity and the legacies of white privilege to great effect, celebrating the power of food while examining the ways that the food industry has subverted the very notion of community it claims to celebrate.

Like Donovan's famous desserts, Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger takes simple ingredients--a woman's life, a journey into motherhood, a romance, a family legacy--and transforms them into something delectable, delicious and downright inspiring
Was this review helpful?
Just when you think you have read all the food memoirs fit to print, along comes this lyrical metamorphosis of a pastry chef. It is graphic and insightful. She pulls no punches and makes no excuses for her excesses. I found her introspection telling and her final resolve to change herself before she changed anything food related. It is an evolution well worth your time and energy. I wish there were a few recipes but her insight into the philosophy of food and how it’s changed mirrors the effort of farm to table eating.
Was this review helpful?
This is one of the best food memoirs that I have read. It is a heartfelt, authentic and delicious journey.  The best part is that the author presents the story without being self-centered, dropping names or sensationalizing any of the noteworthy events .  Her honesty and transparency is refreshing.  It's nice to read a story worthy of being told.
Was this review helpful?
This is mostly a memoir of a woman's abusive relationships, pregnancy as a result of rape, and her struggle to survive despite it all. It is marketed as a memoir of a pastry chef but most of that part of the book doesn't manifest until the last third of the book. I found it well written but I would have preferred more of a tie-in between her younger life and her career in the kitchen.
Was this review helpful?
Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger, by Lisa Donovan (Penguin Press, 2020)

First line: "I had the kind of mango between my fingers that you really have to suck on before you can even start to bite the sinewy flesh, otherwise you risk losing all its juices down the length of your arm -- and, occasionally, clear into your armpit, depending on your position at the time."

This opening sentence gives us a delicious (yes, pun intended) glimpse into both the subject matter and the language that author/chef Lisa Donovan uses in her new memoir. From the first words to the final chapters, the reader gets to just bask in the glorious love for food Donovan has, which is at once full of effusive gorgeous language, and yet incredibly down-to-earth. I mean, she uses the word "armpit" in that first line. Nothing more common than an armpit, you know? And that's how this entire book feels.

In this memoir, Donovan takes us through her life up to this point, including all her mistakes and triumphs along the way. To me, life as a chef has always seemed somewhat exotic and fancy, and I still got a sense of that in this book. But I think I'm starting to understand that it's not the actual work that is exotic or fancy, because Donovan is not shy about describing the struggles, hardships, and plainly sexist nature of working in restaurant kitchens; instead, it's the sheer love true chefs have for the ingredients and the act of creating food and community for other people that builds the work up to a higher level than we mere plebeians typically experience. I felt the same wonder and awe reading this book as I get watching beautiful food documentaries, like Samin Nosrat's "Salt Acid Fat Heat" (she makes an appearance in this book, btw!!). Donovan writes about food and cooking so incredibly beautifully.

This memoir is much more than food, though. Donovan also describes growing up with her family always on the move, which causes her to stumble defining her home and "southernness" later in life; she details the abuse she experienced with the father of her first child, and the heartache that entails, before finding her Mr. Lisa Donovan; she writes about motherhood, what it means to her, and what it means to be the daughter and granddaughter of generations of mothers; she talks about the people she's met and held on to along the way, people who have been there for her and served as a touchstone and an inspiration. And she gives us all of this with such honest reflection and some wonderfully grounded writing:

"Never underestimate showing up for someone. Never estimate what reading Mark Twain to someone before bed, buying them drugstore lotion as a reminder to take care of themselves, or making them watch old episodes of Murder, She Wrote can do. Friendship like that is rich salve."

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I read this book with a hunger -- both for the food she describes, but also for the language she puts on the page. I thought this entire book was just delectable and I'm inspired to read more food-related non-fiction. I have Anthony Bourdain's classic Kitchen Confidential on my shelf, and it just suddenly worked its way into my more immediate TBR. This one is set to come out August 4!
Was this review helpful?
I’d like to hear more about the food. Maybe a few recipes thrown in with pictures. It was okay. Too much drama.
Was this review helpful?
Man! The first 6/8 of Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger by Lisa Donovan was fierce, and visceral and I could not devour it fast enough. The writing was tight and true and honest and, quite frankly, remarkable. I kept wondering why the author had ever even bothered to pick up a pastry wheel. 

Insights like this hooked me like a fish:

"I was far away from the story of myself" and "I had become skeptical on the inside and fantastically rigid on the outside", and "I think on many levels, I had been shown only how to play defense, never offense", and "we are all each other's mothers, all of us women, we have to take care of each other in that way'.

The author nailed the complex craziness of being a woman and a daughter and ambitious and introspective and fierce and flawed. And her story of those early years - the struggles and the happy times, the really awful bits that formed her into the woman she was becoming - were engaging and real. As she grubbed through the depth of her relationships to the women around her and the women with whom she shared blood, I was deeply touched, and encouraged to stop reading and think about my own relationships, my own women.

If I'd stopped reading at that point, this would have been a 10-star review.

The next 8th - the part where she gets into the heart and soul of her career as a successful pastry chef - held little of the promise of the earlier pages. The author's glorious prose was replaced with a sort of third-person narrative, a list of successes and failures, of disappointments, excuses and name-dropping. I admit to some skimming.

Thankfully, the final 8th of the book was redemptive and filled with the same fierceness and insight I craved. Brilliant!

Lisa Donovan has a wonderful sense of womanhood and truth, and her voice is one we need - and by we I mean women who have been thru the woodshed of life and now know our power and place. 

She articulates what we all understand deep in our hearts. Truths like this:

"Women talk about their mothers, it's true. But we do so quietly, and we do so protectively, because it is a scared thing that many of us don't know what to do with until the day they, or we, die."

Amen. That's the voice I want to hear.

Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger is a book about womanhood and a woman's place, and the author is rich in important stories. That she happens to be a world-class pastry chef is an interesting background to her story and her wisdom, but it isn't the story that will keep readers reading.  So, if you're looking for a "Yes, Chef!" kind of read, this isn't it. If, however, you're looking for a book about a strong, courageous, flawed and authentic woman, this is your book.

This review is based on an advanced copy reading.
Was this review helpful?