How chef Erin French ended up at The Lost Kitchen

By the time Erin French welcomes guests — 50 of them, twice a week — to her Lost Kitchen restaurant, they’ve already sipped and sipped for two hours — and they haven’t even figured out what’s on the menu yet. .

“I just wanted to stop for a moment and welcome you all,” French told his guests. “I hope you get a taste of our joy tonight because that’s what we’re running on, and some great ingredients, and lots of love!”

And Something Else: Embedded in every meal she serves is the story of how, at Lost Kitchen, she found freedom, and now fame, in Freedom, Maine (population: approximately 700).

French said, “You make me feel like this is the center of the universe.”

The cookbook author, best-selling memoirist and TV chef welcomes guests to The Lost Kitchen restaurant, one of the hardest to get reservations in the world.

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So it looks like it is. The Lost Kitchen is one of the hardest reservations to get in the world. French has released a cookbook, with another in the works; and the film rights to his hit memoir, “Finding Freedom,” sold out in a major bidding war. Season 3 of his Magnolia TV series begins this month.

Its success is all the more bluffing that it was difficult to find.

Chef Erin French at The Lost Kitchen.

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Here’s what she told correspondent Martha Teichner: “My dad was a pretty tough guy to be around.”

Her father, Jeff Richardson, owned a restaurant just outside of Freedom. Erin started working there when she was 12 years old. “Having times when I was doing something on the line, and he was giving that quiet ‘you did it right’ look, that’s when I learned to understand that difficult relationship with my dad, had to cook together .”

Young Erin at work at her father’s restaurant.

Erin French

His mother, Deanna, was a schoolteacher. “She would never talk; she wasn’t allowed to,” French said.

All Erin wanted to do was get away from the restaurant, from Freedom, and she did. But after 2 and a half years of university in Boston, at 21, she discovers that she is pregnant; abandoned; and returned to Freedom to have her baby, a boy she named Jaim – and to work in the restaurant.

“Even coming home and diving back into food, I still didn’t get the clues that I might like it,” she said.

Eventually it sank. At 30, French opened a restaurant, the first Lost Kitchen. It was a success, but her life was a wreck, especially her marriage. “My anxiety was growing. I was working those crazy hours and I was in this miserable marriage. I started taking prescription drugs, and that’s when the spiral started to happen.”

What came next? Addiction, a long and unpleasant divorce. French lost his restaurant. For a time, she even lost custody of her son.

So she had to drag herself out of the depths. Her lifeboat was a land yacht – a wreck of an Airstream. “I spent a lot of time, just recovery time, bringing myself back to life living here,” she told Teichner. “It was an absolute mess.”

She took a hammer inside: “I just had this moment of, I just dropped everything, and I just needed a good scream and a good scream, and a new start.”

It has become the lost kitchen on wheels. Now it’s parked a few yards from the 19th century mill where the restaurant has been for the last eight years, a tourist attraction even for people who can’t get reservations (and that’s pretty much everyone).

The Lost Kitchen, now serving inside an old mill in Freedom, Maine.

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To get a reservation at Los Kitchen, you must send a postcard; they are drawn to determine who enters. This year, the restaurant received more than 50,000 postcards.

The restaurant is open from the end of May to October. Dinner is $195. Seems like a lot, but that’s for 12 good dishes.

Local French cuisine. Her secret ingredient: lots of butter

RECIPE: Small Neck Clams from The Lost Kitchen

Little neck clams.

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The Lost Kitchen is made up mostly of women, all friends of the French, who don’t need to talk because they’re working on music – a soundtrack for the happy ending to this second-chance story.

French said: “There was a moment when I realized I had to go through it all to get exactly here, and that’s that beautiful, terrifying kind of thing in life.”

Nine years ago, French met media executive Michael Dutton. They got married in 2018.

French’s mother, now divorced from her father, does everything that needs to be done at the Lost Kitchen. And when dinner begins, French presides over the Lost Kitchen, like a woman who has finally found herself.

She raised a glass to her guests at the restaurant: “These are the memories we create in this room. I hope they last a long time. Here’s to three more hours to eat!”

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Story produced by Jon Carras. Publisher: Carol Ross.

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