Book Review: “Finding Freedom”

Cook Behind a World Renowned Restaurant Publishes Memoir


Photo by Anthony Whiting

Erin French released her memoir “Finding Freedom” on Apr. 6 that tells the story of creating community through the love of food in the town of her childhood, Freedom, Maine, that carries bitter memories. Her restaurant, The Lost Kitchen, remains one of the hardest restaurants to book reservations for in the nation.

Anthony Whiting, Reporter

She is a cook, not a chef. Erin French is not the typical author, but her story isn’t either. ‘Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch’ was released earlier this year on Apr. 6 and is a New York Times bestseller.

I first came across this book after watching a “60 Minutes” segment that featured the author and owner of the Lost Kitchen, the restaurant owned by French. I have to admit I was skeptical of the read, as I don’t have much connection to anything related to the book: I live as far as one could get from Maine, my family is not in the restaurant business, never shucked my own oysters, nor had access to abundant seafood. Despite this, ‘Finding Freedom’ is one of my favorite books of the year.

Erin French starts the memoir with experiences in her childhood growing up in the sleepy town of Freedom, Maine. There is continual tension between Erin and her father, an alcoholic who owns the local town diner, believed to originate from his desire wanting boys for children to carry on his family name. He seems indifferent to his daughters as they try their best to avoid his lashing, erratic behavior. The traits exhibited by her father create a unique mirrored experience with her first husband that Erin in part seems to acknowledge for the first time through writing this book as an outlet. The book made me feel a connection to the author because the story is such a vulnerable topic and she shows the true strength of her character tested to relive her darkest moments.

While working in her dad’s diner trying to earn some money and gain his respect, she develops a love for working with food, serving people, and trying to fuse new ingredients into the classic American fare. Throughout the story, food brings her family together when nothing else will.

The quick awakening into her adult life is propelled by an unexpected event, forcing her to drop out of college. She faces more problems after moving home then to the nearby coastal town of Belfast that puts her near death. The climatic recount built up my nerves so that I could not put the book down; it has been quite some time since I last felt that way from a book. The low spirits in this part of the book are counteracted with irony perfect in comedic undertones that allowed me to smile within the turmoil.

The author puts as much passion into writing her story as she does with every meal prepared at the Lost Kitchen. The read is reminiscent of ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeannette Walls – a story about a dysfunctional family – due to the same vivid, unexpected imagery that follows the storyline. I think French solidifies herself as unique, great writer in her own right through her ability to create complex food profiles in writing.

The often humorous and clever chapter titles, like ‘Leaves of Three,’ set the stage for food that feels so close you could eat it. She describes the staple oysters served with “an apple-and-shallot mignonette—and hard-boiled quail eggs” and and the final dishes of “rich chocolate tart or a luscious lemony semifreddo with hazelnut brittle.” In my view, the detailed expression of ingredients are an important aspect of illustrating her connection with food and does not distract from the chronological story because it is the outlet in which Erin makes connections with family, friends or near strangers.

I would recommend this novel, even if you’re not a skilled cook like me. The story of overcoming hardship, finding community, love and sharing your passion (that being food in French’s case) is something we can all relate to and appreciate. This is a classic American story for all, creating a little magic out of the ordinary: food. Readers will be impacted by the candid story through heartache and triumph. By the end of the book I was completely mesmerized by Erin French, the resiliency and the special space she created in Freedom.

The Lost Kitchen is still located in the building of the old town mill. The restaurant found a creative approach to meet the alarming demand to dine in, using postcard raffles for the reservation process, that I admire in the digital age. “Finding Freedom” is available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble for $28.