The Lost Kitchen, Freedom, Maine
“What was your favorite dinner?” he asked our party of seven.
Laughter was all around us, with glasses clinking and rain pouring outside the open windows and front door of the wooden mill.
“Well. Mmmm. What do you mean? The food?” his seat mate asked.
“Or the place?” her husband probed.
We all started talking at once, remembering a 50th birthday at the White Barn Inn when certainly the lifelong friends at the table, the Christmas season, the light snow – all led to it becoming one of the “best.” Scales came up. A lobster risotto in Bar Harbor a dozen years ago was remembered.
And then, the women dressed in black, one with stunning red lipstick, brought us the entrée for the evening – spring run halibut (the last of the season in Maine) with creamy polenta, asparagus, turnip & capers – artistically displayed on large plates, set down in front of all seven of us at the same time. We oohed and aahed…..and collectively said, “Well, this! This is our favorite dinner!”
My postcard was pulled!
It happened after 3 or 4 years, all on April 1st, of mailing postcards to the tiny post office in Freedom, Maine, hoping that maybe (just maybe) this year, I would secure a “golden ticket” and get a reservation to an exclusive, highly-coveted seat at one of the humble tables (ours made by Erin French’s own hands with boards scavenged from a Maine barn), bedecked in wild flowers and flickering white candles with food that guests often described as “the best meal of their lives.”
Erin admits she is not a trained chef. She is a cook, of simple food, with local, organic, in-season ingredients purchased from farmers she considers friends, seemingly immediately upon meeting them or visiting their farms or small gardens or greenhouse raspberries. She also admits that what she mixes into each dish, the defining secret ingredient, is…..love.
My “golden ticket” came as a telephone call, magically, on my 30th work anniversary, with 30 days to go before I would retire, after 40 years of work, on an afternoon that I’d been emailed by my “muse,” a woman who sends something wonderful and magic to me every time I talk with her. I sent in the postcards mostly for my BFF who is adventurous and really wanted to go. Our plan was to go together, stay overnight in one of the new sleeping cabins at The Lost Kitchen, and make a memorable adventure out of the experience.
But….when my call came in, it was due to a cancellation. My only option was Friday night, June 16, table of seven, just two weeks out. On June 16, my BFF would be in Portugal celebrating her 50th birthday.
I hadn’t researched ahead how far away Freedom was from Portland, where we might stay overnight if the sleeping cabins were booked, who else might be interested in going. Another BFF, also adventurous, called from California and matter-of-factly said, “Just say yes. Book it! You can figure out who will go later.”
Back to my muse…..I just had a feeling that a door was being placed in front of me, at this moment of retirement and monumental change, and I needed to walk through it.
I said, “yes!”
And very quickly, I filled my seven seats. I learned there were many – colleagues, friends, friends of friends – who had been mailing postcards for many years themselves, who knew the restaurant, Erin's story, her show on the Magnolia Network and who would have loved to join us!
My husband and I love to cook, love delicious meals, and eating out in beautiful places. I am not as daring as he is when it comes to food; he will eat anything. I eat a lot of things, and all produce, but not….sushi grade tuna, oysters, bone marrow….and sometimes, that is on Erin’s menu.
My husband finds The Lost Kitchen’s business model very interesting – nearly impossible to get in, a once-in-a-lifetime-expensive-celebratory meal, in the middle of nowhere, where all 50 diners come at 5:00 (one sitting) just 3 nights per week, May to October, and eat a prix fixed meal that is unknown to them until they arrive, and for which there are no substitutions.
Erin says her job is a high wire act. Each week, when looking at what the farmers and fishermen have to offer, she plans the week’s meal. Early spring, the offerings may be limited, but she says she still has to create “the best meal of peoples’ lives” since that is what they are expecting.
What we found in going to The Lost Kitchen is the business model sure works! Primarily because it’s about far more than the food. It is absolutely the experience, the nurturing, welcoming, astounding attention to every single detail. It is, no question, the love Erin pours into every dish.
We were brought 16 offerings over five hours:
· A tiny shrub (slushie) of elderberry with a sprinkle of apple cider vinegar and sprig of mint
· Radishes with salted butter and edible flowers
· A “nibble” board of olives, almonds, home-made chips, prosciutto
· Oysters on the half shell
· Raw scallops, sliced wafer thin, sprinked with lemon & vinegar, served in their shell
· Pork belly with home-made mayo
· Roasted carrot & coriander soup with honey and soft cheese in the bottom of the bowl
· Fried chive blossoms with honey
· A salad for early summer of crisp, fresh bibb & little gem lettuces, shallot vinaigrette, blossoms &
herbs including dill, with a trio of cheese on the side
· A melon scoop sized lilac infused sorbet served in a tiny, white, chicken dish
· Followed by a pause for a warm towel infused with flowers to wash our fingers before continuing
· The halibut entrée, cooked to perfection, with polenta, asparagus, turnip & capers
· Home-made vanilla ice cream with honey crunch scooped into petite cones
· Home-made, warm plain donuts, rolled in sugar and served with tiny glass bottles of milk
· Tea brewed table-side with chamomile & mint
· Warm, just-baked, candied ginger shortbread with roasted rhubarb compote, vanilla bean
custard and whipped cream
· French pressed, delicious, coffee
I didn’t leave stuffed. I left content. I left loved. I felt clean eating her offerings. Everything was so fresh. All my senses were heightened in that cozy room, with the rain pouring down onto the waterfall, onto the lush, verdant, yard.
Receiving 20,000 postcards per season, Erin knows what she’s known all along – it’s how you make people feel; it’s giving more than your guest or client expects; it’s authentically loving what you’re doing that shines through; it’s attending to every single detail.
Experiencing “the best” of anything is all in the details.
The timing of my visit was uncanny and magic, and my husband began to laugh as every dish was brought to us saying it was as if I had actually planned the meal myself. It was SO me with so much vanilla!
As we were leaving, with a 1.5 hour drive ahead of us, we marvelled that the evening could not have gone any better. It lived up to our high expectations.
Erin French and all The Lost Kitchen crew are absolutely fantastic at what they do.
We could not have asked for more.
Next April 1, you might want to drop your postcard in the mail to the “North Pole.” The morning of our dinner, my belly was a-flutter, and I felt like a kid at Christmas. At 61 years old, THAT doesn’t happen often! And, best thing.....Santa brought what I asked for!