FREEDOM, Me. — Right in the middle of dinner service at her restaurant, the Lost Kitchen, the chef Erin French likes to step out and talk to the crowd, as if she’s giving a toast at a party.
“It’s July in Maine,” she said on a recent night, raising a sweaty glass of rosé. “How lucky are we?”
Locals in the dining room cheered; July meant long sunlit days with cherries and elderflowers, sweet snap peas and creamy new potatoes, small and misshapen as freshwater pearls.
Ms. French talked through her menu, annotating it like a memoirist. The main course today was lamb, not because it was part of her plan, she explained cheerfully, but because the swordfish she had ordered never arrived, and the angry phone calls she made got her nowhere. So Ms. French did what she always did: She vaulted off the disaster toward something else, something she hadn’t planned for.
Dinner at the Lost Kitchen is an occasion, and most restaurants of its caliber work to maintain an illusion of effortless perfection. Ms. French, who is 36, has built a cult following with her own approach — open, intimate and personal.
Inside a hydropowered grist mill in Freedom, a town about halfway between Augusta and Bangor, she cooks a set dinner for 40 people, four nights a week, editing the menu each day to keep up with subtle changes in season and supply.
When reservations opened in April, Ms. French received thousands of phone calls requesting tables, clogging up the phone line and answering machine. The restaurant is open eight months of the year, and she filled the books from May right through to New Year’s Eve in just one day.
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