Black Agency
Published by
Penguin Press (2020-08-04)
Current material
Final Pages
Original language



by Donovan, Lisa

Renowned Southern pastry chef Lisa Donovan's memoir of cooking, survival, and the incredible power in reclaiming the stories of women. Donovan's experiences as a woman in some of the most intense and successful restaurants in America brought her to a reckoning and, ultimately, a revolutionary decision to reclaim a spirit of generosity in the often toxic restaurant industry. Inspired by her viral call-to-arms essay for Food & Wine.

Noted chef and James Beard Award-winning essayist Lisa Donovan helped establish some of the South's most important kitchens, and her pastry work is at the forefront of a resurgence in traditional desserts. Yet Donovan struggled to make a living in an industry where male chefs built successful careers on the stories, recipes, and culinary heritage passed down from generations of female cooks and cooks of color. At one of her career peaks, she made the perfect dessert at a celebration for food-world goddess Diana Kennedy. When Kennedy asked why she had not heard of her, Donovan said she did not know. "I do," Kennedy said, "Stop letting men tell your story."

OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HUNGER is Donovan's searing, beautiful, and searching chronicle of reclaiming her own story and the narrative of the women who came before her. Her family's matriarchs found strength and passion through food, and they inspired Donovan's accomplished career. Donovan's love language is hospitality, and she wants to welcome everyone to the table of good food and fairness. Donovan herself had been told at every juncture that she wasn't enough: she came from a struggling southern family that felt ashamed of its own mixed race heritage and whose elders diminished their women. She survived abuse and assault as a young mother. But Donovan's salvations were food, self-reliance, and the network of women in food who stood by her. In the school of the late John Egerton, OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HUNGER is an unforgettable Southern journey of class, gender, and race as told at table.

Lisa Donovan has redefined what it means to be a "southern baker" as the pastry chef to some of the South's most influential chefs, including Margot McCormack, Tandy Wilson, and Sean Brock. Unabashedly serving her church cakes and pies to finish fine-dining experiences, she has been formative in establishing a technique driven and historically rich narrative of southern pastry. Donovan received a James Beard Award for her writing in Food & Wine, where she is a regular contributor, and she has been a featured speaker at René Redzepi's globally renowned MAD Symposium. Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger is her first book.

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Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger is more than the story of a woman who finds her own voice in the patriarchal world of professional cooking. It's also the story of making a life - a life of love, of community, of commitment to the flame of creativity that somehow manages to burn against all odds. Lisa Donovan has written nothing less than the story of making a life in our times.

Quote: Margaret Renkl, author of Late Migrations

[A] fiesty confessional... Donovan's candid, passionate memoir will resonate with anyone who has worked in professional kitchens, and particularly women.

Review: Publishers Weekly

Donovan... chronicles her career as a chef and her unrelenting passion for the culinary arts, but she also digs into her family history, offering keen reflections on the intersections of race and gender and spirited discussions of work, class, and opportunity... [Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger] is not just a lively story of a talented pastry chef at the top of her game; it's also a profoundly relatable memoir of the pervasive push back against female success. A fresh voice with a recipe for empowerment.

Review: Kirkus

Lisa Donovan's writing has such intensity and assertiveness. It spikes the adrenaline and creates tension in a way that feels almost athletic. And it's through this toned and visceral prose that we are forced to reckon with Lisa's most essential recipe: that respect is bred from unflinching truth and raw honesty. In life, and on these pages, Lisa charts a path of personal growth with brave transparency, eloquently acknowledging that life's greatest challenges are not circumstance, but a calling.

Quote: Ashley Christensen, James Beard Award-winning chef

Lisa Donovan writes with a voice that is both bruised and tender in Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger. In tracing her path to food, Donovan honors the women who shaped her philosophy in the kitchen, reminding us of the necessity of women telling their stories in a world so eagerly determined to erase them. We are quite lucky to live in a world where Donovan has written her own story with such grace.

Quote: Mayukh Sen, James Beard Award-winning writer

Author's viral call-to-arms essay in Food & Wine: Acclaimed pastry chef Lisa Donovan details her experiences with sexual harassment, both in and outside of the kitchen, and calls upon men to stop looking the other way. "I refuse to be afraid to say these things out loud any longer," she writes...

Quote: Food & Wine

A critique of the 'world that men made,' a pledge to the women who came before her, and a challenge to work in new ways, Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger blazes a path of self-discovery that manages, as great memoir must, to serve readers more than self. Lisa Donovan knows things we need to know.

Quote: John T. Edge, author of The Potlikker Papers

The first time you meet Lisa you want to pull up a stool, pour a drink and listen to every story she has to tell. It turns out you don't need the stool or the drink. This is a woman you will be happy to get to know.

Quote: Ruth Reichl, author of Save Me the Plums

Lisa Donovan is one of the country's great pastry chefs, but this isn't a story about food, really. It's about the strength of womanhood and motherhood. It's about staring down the betrayals that women face. And it's about the redemptive power, not of food itself, but of finding common cause in feeding others.

Quote: Francis Lam, host, The Splendid Table

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