Lazy Sunday: The Lost Kitchen
Erin French’s The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, Maine, is already one of the toughest restaurant reservations in America to get.
You can only get a seat by mailing in a postcard—and even then, you have to be lucky enough to have your postcard randomly drawn from a pile of over 20,000. Forty-eight seats, four nights a week, less than six months of the year. You can do the math, but even in a normal season, the odds are long. (Full disclosure: I got lucky. Twice.) As tough a get as it already is, the documentary series titled simply The Lost Kitchen is only going to make those odds exponentially longer.
The first episode was filmed at the close of the 2019 season. It focuses on French’s backstory and the origins of The Lost Kitchen itself, and at this point, it’s a pretty straightforward restaurant show: loving closeups of bubbling pots of polenta, oysters with rhubarb vinaigrette and butter-seared halibut (and y’all, that one dude ain’t lying about that pork slider).
The remaining five episodes were filmed during the onset and continuation of the pandemic in 2020. The series quickly 180s and becomes less about gorgeous, thoughtful plating and farm-to-table evangelism (though when French suddenly leaves the kitchen and strolls over to her neighbor’s farm to snip a handful of chives—out of, I dunno, A CHIVE FIELD?—you will believe), and more about the full-panic pivot and constant recalibration TLK must undertake to survive.
French goes from full-dinner service provider to drive-through farmers’ market doyenne to fried chicken lunch slinger to private dining cabin designer (and OMG OMG OMG, the cabin). The sheer number of ways she comes up with to stay viable—all at the same time—is both exhausting and inspirational. So . . . exh-pirational?
The series does a great job of seducing you into hatching a future plan to visit The Lost Kitchen. (Look: you will fill out a postcard, you will send it on April 1, you will scream when your phone lights up with the words “Freedom, Maine” on it, you will drop your phone, and you will call them back immediately and shriek “Did I miss it? DID I MISS IT?”) But I think what it’s really about is the fragile interconnectedness of all small businesses. More than ever, The Lost Kitchen’s success or failure partially (or, in some cases, totally) determines the success or failure of the farmers and the ranchers and the fisherman and the cabin builders she patronizes (not to mention the all-woman staff she employs).
The whole Lost Kitchen process—from hopeful postcard to thrilling phone call to the final perfect bite of a lemon ginger scone—is a once (OR MAYBE TWICE) in a lifetime experience that is, in the end, sure, just dinner. But watching Erin French pull it all off with such care and thought and empathy in the middle of this nightmare of a pandemic is nothing short of miraculous. Late in the series, referring to the dessert course as her favorite—because it means she and her amazing team made it through another night—she says “We made it this far, and it’s sweet at the end.” Spoiler: she’s not just talking about dinner.