Finding Freedom-A Cook’s Story Remaking a Life from Scratch by Erin French

A Maine restauranteur and author, shares her story of growing up in Maine and overcoming adversity.

When I looked back at my reading list of 2021, I saw a couple of themes emerge – overcoming adversity and seeking inspiration for living a meaningful life. The fact that this book includes several of my personal interests made it onto my list of “Favorite Book of 2021”.

I did not know of Erin French before seeing her interviewed for her book’s promotion on morning news shows. I was instantly excited to see a Maine woman featured and for the story she had to tell. Not only the owner and head cook of a world-renowned restaurant (The Lost Kitchen) located right here in the small-town of Freedom, Maine, but she had a compelling story of overcoming childhood and adult tribulations, and then of redemption to share. And I was ALL-IN.

Erin’s story is classic Maine. Her childhood spent in a small town, many of her relatives lived nearby. Her parents married and had Erin and her younger sister. The rub? Her father had seemingly wanted a son and Erin spent her childhood knowing this and she tried to figure out a way to be herself, and to still live up to her father’s expectations. She grew up in the restaurant business – her father owned the local diner. Erin’s interest in cooking started early and while she did not know it then, that interest, that skill, her natural talent, would become her lifeline later in life. But first, she had other plans for herself, that included leaving her small-town to attend medical school in big-city Boston. Life events and difficult choices presented, and Erin returned Maine. She began her adult career in the restaurant world. Forging her own path and vision for elevated food in this part of the State, Erin recounts her personal and professional struggles honestly, brutally, and directly.

I was captivated by her story, and mostly by her courage to tell the shadowy parts of her life in a way that is heartbreaking, and inspiring. Erin’s fortitude is present from her childhood, and it never wanes. The sweet balm of the story comes quite close to the end of the book, when Erin’s current restaurant began to take form in an abandoned building that was also in need of a new life.

“I wasn’t the only broken and lonely soul in Freedom: There was the old mill… until it got its second chance… I had built a restaurant from scratch before, but this time it felt like there was more to prove… there were people who had loved the good bit of gossip I had given them to chew on and enjoyed watching my tumbledown – wouldn’t they just love a little more?”

Erin writes: “A good person in a bad place can do things she’d never imagine.” Interestingly, I did not pity Erin – instead, I found myself pushing through each chapter quickly, looking for her explanation – “the turn” in her life. I wanted to learn how she had overcome (or is still overcoming?). I wanted to hear how… what did she do? What did she tell herself? And she delivers. I’m not going to lie; I felt a kinship to Erin. I did not grow up far from her, and while I do not know her town well, I am familiar with the area and understand the desire that some of us had to see life beyond our simple existence here in Maine. She returned to Maine and figured it out. Read this book to learn for yourself. And drop The Lost Kitchen a reservation request postcard and experience the world she has created for herself right here in small-town Maine.

Celadon Books: New York. 289 pages Hardcover (purchased through Barnes & Noble, Augusta, ME. Published 2021.