Read this cookbook: “The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine” by Erin French (Clarkson Potter, $32.50)
By Wendell Brock
Sometimes we have to lose everything before we get it right.
Erin French grew up in the village of Freedom, Maine, flipping burgers at her father’s 50-seat greasy spoon, never planning on being a chef. (She doesn’t even like the word.)
Late in her 20s, married with a young son, she started feeding people at “secret suppers” in her apartment. Eventually, she got the nerve to open a restaurant, only to see it all go down the drain in a messy divorce.
In a classic comeback tale, she found a second chance in a restored 1834 gristmill in her hometown of Freedom. Today the restaurant she runs in that space, The Lost Kitchen, is a culinary destination: Apparently it’s impossible to snag a reservation without months of planning.
But you can get a taste of French’s simple seasonal style in her new cookbook, which romances the heck out of her isolated New England home, where summer means “salt, sun & fireflies.” Not to mention lobster, clams, elderflowers, tomatoes, peaches.
Pretty much every cool person I know is off to Maine for the season. Me, I’ll just bask in this saga of paradise lost and regained, through food.
I’ve got my eye on French’s Chilled Golden Beet & Buttermilk Soup and maybe her Peach & Ginger Cobbler. When I’m feeling thirsty, I might mix up a Sea Rose & Cucumber Gin and Tonic (made with rose water and garnished with rose petals).
Having just published a story on lavender, I realize how many uses I’ve yet to discover. French surprises me with her Lavender Frites; Skillet Mussels with Rosemary, Lime & Lavender — even a Lavender Sink Scrub. (Grind ½ cup of dried lavender into a fine powder. Mix with a 14-ounce box of baking soda. Then give that basin some lavender love.)
Looking ahead to cold weather, I’m dreaming about French’s Apple Cider-Glazed Duck; Chowder of Sweet Clams; and Caramelized Pear & Cornmeal Skillet Cake.
As a person who’s made good number of mistakes in the kitchen (as in life), I have to smile at French’s philosophy of cooking (which could also apply to matters of the heart): “Learn to trust your instincts, discover through play, and if all else fails, remember that there are few ails that butter and salt can’t cure.”
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).