{the} Lost Kitchen: An Adventure for the Soul

I'd never heard of a supper club until I spent a few years living in Switzerland.  I stumbled across an article about Jim Haynes and his supper club in Paris.  For thirty years, he's been taking first come, first serve reservations for his Sunday dinners.  I dragged along eight skeptical people, my kids being the worst of the skeptics, and showed up at his garden gate on an Easter Sunday.    
But his dinners were clearly more about the chance encounters with dinner guests from all over the world than the food. Instant friends for a night.  The dinner itself was average but add in fairy lights, a garden in Paris behind a locked gate, people of all ages and from all walks of life and it was magical.  
Even misplacing my youngest briefly who had gotten tired and solved the problem herself, didn't dampen the magic.
It just became part of the story, "I couldn't find you. I looked all over. It was Dad that saw you asleep in some else's garden, all curled up on a bench with his jacket as your pillow. We said our goodbyes and then Dad picked you up and carried you, still sleeping, through the quiet streets to the metro on an Easter night in Paris."
So when I heard about Erin French and the original Lost Kitchen secret supper club in Belfast, Maine, I was intrigued.  I read that dinner was announced by flicking on her porch light on a Saturday night. Donations were taken and she cooked for whoever showed up.  Except, her supper club was about the food.  A little mystery and intrigue that only an underground supper club could provide didn't hurt and her reputation grew.  She opened a restaurant.

But no one can sustain working twenty hour days, while also a wife and a mother, and a crash followed. An epic crash; divorce and the collateral damage that brings, The Lost Kitchen- gone. 
She's since dusted herself off and found her feet back where she first learned to run, in Freedom, Maine. It appears she has all the support she needs this time.  A proud and protective family singing her praises to anyone who wants to listen, the local community who believed in her and offered her a second chance-redemption in the form a new space in a restored mill, and the farmers- many of whom are women, many of whom also work at the restaurant.  
Erin French's story reminds me of Cheryl Strayed's, author of Wild: From Lost to Found.  Smart women, hurt and unsure how to move forward.  And then they do. And it's big and it's bold.  
But it's the lingering traces of vulnerability that makes these women so appealing. I don't know what it is like for them alone in the dark with only their heartbeat and their most private thoughts, whether they still doubt the truth of who they are or if they question whether their truth is in the dark or the light, but I hope they look toward the light. 
I was looking north. Five and a half hours north.  I drove and drove.  Past all the familiar sights until they weren't anymore.  Until the roofs were more steeply pitched and the roads rolled up and down.  Cresting one vista and then another. Cell service would come and go.   
Where Jim Haynes' supper club is all about who shows up for dinner, The Lost Kitchen is all about what's for dinner. Because this is no longer a supper club. It's Erin French's heart and soul. 
{the} Lost Kitchen reimagined is simple food at its finest.  Erin French is part artist, part conservationist, but all Maine when she talks about locally sourced ingredients...
Squash flowers picked fresh that morning. The first of the season from a local organic farm. Squash blossoms are open in the morning making them perfect for stuffing, in this case with a smoky ricotta, that are then deep fried.
Don't try that in the afternoon, says Erin. Open squash flowers are fleeting and like all of Spain, their work is done by 2:00 p.m.
Dandelion greens. Kohlrabi. Red and white radishes to be smeared with butter. Goat cheese made that day.

And oysters she probably plucked that morning from whatever saltwater habitat oysters live in.
Pigs raised on farms where they can smell the sea and baby lettuce too sweet to cut up, so everyone must get their own.
Shortcakes disguised as scones or maybe scones disguised as shortcakes with grated lemon zest and candied ginger mixed in, then under-baked by one or two minutes. Shortcake rafts on a sea of strawberry compote which then gets buried under an avalanche of fresh Maine strawberries and whipped cream topped with edible flowers. 
(53 words to describe strawberry shortcake, I know.)

Though Erin is far prettier, she and Jim both share a ready smile and a willingness to share what they have with others.  A supper club in a Paris garden or dinner hosted by Erin in a restored mill, both charming, both worthy of the trip.  
If you want to have dinner with Jim, you just need to email him and hop a flight to Paris. If you want to have dinner with Erin, set your alarm for 12:00 a.m. April 1. Then call. And call and call.  She takes reservations until there aren't any more to be had.  This year reservations closed by 11:00 a.m., April 1. 
Be persistent. 10,000 people are also calling (no, really). The switchboard shuts down. It's lunacy.
But it's worth it. Adventures are also soul food.

If you'd like to read my original blog on dinner with Jim, it's here. 


  1. Wow. I never knew about supper clubs like this. What a wonderful experience. If I'm ever in Paris....lol I love your 53 word strawberry shortcake! Yummy.

  2. Ive never heard of this. My mother in law lives in Belfast and we go up there often!

  3. This is amazing! I heard of a secret supper club here in Chicago but never really imagined them all over the world. i really want to try the one in Paris since i'm planning a trip there soon.

  4. Supper club sounds really good! I wish there was one here

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