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Chef Erin French's Farm-to-Table Dinner Party Menu

Chef Erin French's Farm-to-Table Dinner Party Menu

At the Lost Kitchen restaurant in Freedom, Maine, chef and owner Erin French works magic with local ingredients, and aims to have every guest leave feeling doted on -- a mission that springs directly from her own story of love, loss, and redemption. On a warm night, she and her close-knit staff (an all-female crew that includes her mom) gathered for a farm-fresh off-duty dinner.

At 4:30 P.M. on most afternoons, Erin French prints out dinner menus at the Lost Kitchen. The prix-fixe tasting, which patrons drive for hours to experience, includes eight to ten courses that have come together just moments before and are “driven by the season, availability, and weather,” she says. In summer, that can mean fried squash blossoms with ricotta and herbs, buttered and roasted hake with cherry tomatoes and capers, and chamomile creme brulee, all prepared by French in the restored mill that houses her gem of a restaurant, in the rural town of Freedom, Maine. The space is as intimate and welcoming as the food, with wide-plank floors, eight tables, an open kitchen, low lighting and music, and flowers everywhere. “Attention to detail is the biggest deal to me,” says the self-taught chef. “I want whoever comes into this space to feel loved.”

 

That impulse to nourish and nurture has guided French her whole life. After learning to cook in her parents’ diner in nearby Knox, she went to college with plans for medical school. But with the birth of her son when she was 21, she rerouted to Maine, where she eventually returned to the food business as a caterer in Belfast. At 30, heeding “a burning desire to have something of my own,” she began a supper club in her apartment called the Lost Kitchen, which she and her then-husband grew into an actual restaurant -- and a big hit. But in 2013, French lost the business in a tough divorce and started over, moving in with her parents in Freedom. There, she cobbled together enough money to buy an Airstream trailer, and drove it around doing pop-up dinners in barns, greenhouses, and orchards. One day, while scouting Freedom’s former grist mill as a pop-up location, she realized what she’d found: a new home for the Lost Kitchen.

 

Now in its third season, the restaurant is open four nights a week from May through New Year’s Eve, and books up quickly when the reservation line opens in early April. (Its fame is poised to spread even further when a cookbook featuring recipes and photos of the mill is published next spring.) French employs a dozen women, many of whom also supply produce from their own farms. Since liquor licenses aren’t available in Freedom, French’s mother, Deanna, runs a wine shop in the basement. The group’s camaraderie spills over into their personal time, which means plenty of dinner parties on nights off. In the summer, French loves to combine simple grilled meat or seafood with salads and vegetables and then add special touches. “Maybe it’s burger night, or a big pile of mussels, or a clam boil,” she says. “But I will light candles and lay out vintage plates and good napkins.” The final detail: a few colorful wild bouquets from the garden. “To me, they represent girl power,” French says. “They make everything feel warm and inviting.”

Cheers All Around

French turns up the volume on limeade with sweet-tart blackberries and citrusy marjoram and jazzes up lemonade with homemade elderflower cordial. Vodka adds a boozy kick to both.

Made with Love

Mains, Sides, and Dessert

All of these vibrant and elegant recipes make the most of just-picked vegetables, fruit, and herbs and are bursting with summer flavor.

  • Basil-and-Black-Pepper-Brined-Chicken
    Basil-and-Black-Pepper-Brined-Chicken

    The secret to French's succulent basil-and-black-pepper-brined chicken: She simmers it in the brining liquid so it's just cooked through before grilling. Then she bastes it with basil butter and quickly sears it.

  • Tomato and Wax-Bean Salad with Olive-Oil Croutons
    Tomato and Wax-Bean Salad with Olive-Oil Croutons

    Young beans are tender enough to eat raw and are the perfect partner for juicy tomatoes, crunchy croutons, and fresh dill and dill flowers.

  • Summer-Squash Rolls with Herbed Ricotta, Arugula, and Toasted Hazelnut Vinaigrette
    Summer-Squash Rolls with Herbed Ricotta, Arugula, and Toasted Hazelnut Vinaigrette

    Bright-yellow zucchini ribbons make a lovely wrapping for creamy ricotta studded with fresh basil, marjoram, and dill and peppery arugula. French amps up her favorite shallot-rice vinegar dressing with a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts.

  • Bluefin Tuna with Olive, Cucumber, and Cilantro Relish
    Bluefin Tuna with Olive, Cucumber, and Cilantro Relish

    Maine-caught bluefin tuna is seared in a cast-iron skillet and served with olive, cucumber, and cilantro relish. Salmon or swordfish would also be delicious in this recipe.

  • Potato, Snap Pea, and Pea-Tendril Salad
    Potato, Snap Pea, and Pea-Tendril Salad

    Upgrade potato salad with sugar snap peas, pea tendrils and flowers, bacon, and fresh mint. French's signature shallot-rice vinegar dressing ties all the flavors together.

  • Lemon Shortcakes with Basil Berries
    Lemon Shortcakes with Basil Berries

    Lemon zest adds zing to shortcakes, which are topped with a mixture of berries, shredded basil, lemon juice, and sugar, and a spoonful of vanilla whipped cream.

  • Basil-and-Black-Pepper-Brined-Chicken
    Basil-and-Black-Pepper-Brined-Chicken

    The secret to French's succulent basil-and-black-pepper-brined chicken: She simmers it in the brining liquid so it's just cooked through before grilling. Then she bastes it with basil butter and quickly sears it.

  • Bluefin Tuna with Olive, Cucumber, and Cilantro Relish
    Bluefin Tuna with Olive, Cucumber, and Cilantro Relish

    Maine-caught bluefin tuna is seared in a cast-iron skillet and served with olive, cucumber, and cilantro relish. Salmon or swordfish would also be delicious in this recipe.

  • Tomato and Wax-Bean Salad with Olive-Oil Croutons
    Tomato and Wax-Bean Salad with Olive-Oil Croutons

    Young beans are tender enough to eat raw and are the perfect partner for juicy tomatoes, crunchy croutons, and fresh dill and dill flowers.

  • Potato, Snap Pea, and Pea-Tendril Salad
    Potato, Snap Pea, and Pea-Tendril Salad

    Upgrade potato salad with sugar snap peas, pea tendrils and flowers, bacon, and fresh mint. French's signature shallot-rice vinegar dressing ties all the flavors together.

  • Summer-Squash Rolls with Herbed Ricotta, Arugula, and Toasted Hazelnut Vinaigrette
    Summer-Squash Rolls with Herbed Ricotta, Arugula, and Toasted Hazelnut Vinaigrette

    Bright-yellow zucchini ribbons make a lovely wrapping for creamy ricotta studded with fresh basil, marjoram, and dill and peppery arugula. French amps up her favorite shallot-rice vinegar dressing with a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts.

  • Lemon Shortcakes with Basil Berries
    Lemon Shortcakes with Basil Berries

    Lemon zest adds zing to shortcakes, which are topped with a mixture of berries, shredded basil, lemon juice, and sugar, and a spoonful of vanilla whipped cream.

It Takes a Village

Behind the Scenes at Lost Kitchen

  • Girl Power and Water Power
    Girl Power and Water Power

    In an effort to be more self-sufficient, the Lost Kitchen recently converted to hydropower supplied by nearby Freedom Pond.

  • DIY Wine Cellar
    DIY Wine Cellar

    French and her mom in the wine shop they run in the restaurant basement. Talk about resourceful!

  • The All-Purpose Airstream
    The All-Purpose Airstream

    French and friends grill in her yard, where her 1965 Airstream (and former traveling kitchen) now serves as a guest cottage; "one of my dreams is to bring it back and make it a fried-chicken wagon!" she says.

  • Friends in Green Places
    Friends in Green Places

    Dorolenna Farm, owned by French's friend Victoria Marshall (who also works in the Lost Kitchen's dining room), supplies the restaurant with essentials including chickens, eggs, potatoes, and lavender.

  • Girl Power and Water Power
    Girl Power and Water Power

    In an effort to be more self-sufficient, the Lost Kitchen recently converted to hydropower supplied by nearby Freedom Pond.

  • The All-Purpose Airstream
    The All-Purpose Airstream

    French and friends grill in her yard, where her 1965 Airstream (and former traveling kitchen) now serves as a guest cottage; "one of my dreams is to bring it back and make it a fried-chicken wagon!" she says.

  • DIY Wine Cellar
    DIY Wine Cellar

    French and her mom in the wine shop they run in the restaurant basement. Talk about resourceful!

  • Friends in Green Places
    Friends in Green Places

    Dorolenna Farm, owned by French's friend Victoria Marshall (who also works in the Lost Kitchen's dining room), supplies the restaurant with essentials including chickens, eggs, potatoes, and lavender.