Book Review: Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story

I truly enjoyed the Magnolia Network TV Series “The Lost Kitchen,” and was delighted to find this memoir from the owner, who overcame a lot of adversity to get where she is. Erin French, in a no-holds-barred manner, tells of her childhood with an abusive father, her unplanned pregnancy, and a marriage to an abusive and controlling man. She tells of working 18 hour days in their successful restaurant while her husband did nothing, and then making the mistake of falling into abuse of drugs and alcohol just to keep functioning during those long workdays. When her husband staged an intervention, she went to rehab, but as soon as she was gone he closed the restaurant, drained their bank accounts, and took everything. Then she found out the papers she signed when they bought the restaurant put her husband’s name solely on the deed and her name solely on the mortgage. That tells me everything I need to know about this guy.

French tells a poignant story of starting over, fighting to get her son back, and beginning again with her now successful restaurant in her hometown of Freedom, Maine.

As someone who believes in second, third, and fourth chances, I truly loved this story. There are a few “F-bombs,” in the book, as others have said, but only a few. This is about enduring abuse, making mistakes, and then fighting to start again. It’s also the story of a girl who wants desperately to get out of her small town, does so, and then finds joy and peace when she returns to that very small town she wanted to leave so badly. I’ve always known you CAN go home again, and Erin French proves that point.

I saw a review on Amazon that said Ms. French is not a chef. She states that plainly herself. She is a self-taught cook who likes to use locally grown, organic meat and produce to make stunning dishes. Her restaurant, The Lost Kitchen, is so popular that people have to enter a lottery by postcard each year to get a reservation. Thousands of reservations pour in from all over the world for this 40 seat restaurant. So chef or not, she produces good food.

Fans of The Lost Kitchen, proponents of home grown, locally sourced food, and those who believe in second and third chances will enjoy this memoir.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin French

Erin French is the owner and chef of The Lost Kitchen, a 40-seat restaurant in Freedom, Maine, that was recently named one of TIME Magazine’s World’s Greatest Places and one of “12 Restaurants Worth Traveling Across the World to Experience” by Bloomberg. A born-and-raised native of Maine, she learned early the simple pleasures of thoughtful food and the importance of gathering for a meal. Her love of sharing Maine and its delicious heritage with curious dinner guests and new friends alike has garnered attention in outlets such as The New York Times (her piece was one of the ten most read articles in the food section the year it was published), Martha Stewart Living, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and Food & Wine. She has been invited to share her story on NPR’s All Things Considered, The Chew, CBS This Morning, and The Today Show. Erin was featured in a short film made by Tastemade in partnership with L. L. Bean, which won a James Beard Award, and The Lost Kitchen Cookbook has been named one of the best cookbooks by The Washington Post, Vogue.com, and Remodelista and was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award.

THE LOST KITCHEN WEBSITE

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* I have ordered Erin’s cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, so expect a review soon!

MY AMAZON REVIEW (“HELPFUL” VOTES APPRECIATED)

The Kitchen Front

BOOK REVIEW

The Kitchen Front is a wonderful book which feels like a World War II based combination of Downton Abbey and the Great British Baking Show. In Fenley Village, England, 1942, Ambrose Hart is reluctantly looking for a radio cohost. His bosses have decided they want a local woman who can help listeners find the best uses for their food rations. A cooking contest begins, and the winner will be Ambrose’s co-host on The Kitchen Front radio show. The four contestants are Audrey, who is trying to raise three sons and wallowing in a mountain of debt, Nell, a kitchen maid who is tired of her poor treatment, Lady Gwendoline Strickland, the haughty grand lady of the manor, who is both Nell’s boss and Audrey’s sister, and Zelda Dupont, an English girl turned London-based French chef who has been forced to cook in a British factory and is not happy about it. As the show progresses, each woman’s life begins to change forever.

I immediately connected with the characters and the story. The “upstairs/downstairs,” “Downton Abbey” type relationship is demonstrated by Lady Gwendoline, Sir Strickland, and their cooks and other staff. The radio show cooking contest reminds me of a World War II radio version of the Great British Baking Show. For the contest, each contestant has to provide a starter, a main dish, and a dessert, all on different episodes of the show. All of the recipes for the contest, plus others mentioned in the story, are included in the book. We are given a window into each contestant’s life, both before and during the contest. Audrey is a grieving war widow. Gwendoline is a neglected wife of a strict and domineering nobleman. Zelda is pregnant and abandoned by the child’s father, and Nell is a young girl who wants to get out of the bonds of service. Interesting tidbits about food and history are included, such as why British sausages are called “bangers,” and how some villagers would run to “Anderson shelters,” to escape the bombings. We even get a little education on World War II era planes. I enjoyed every minute of this book, read it in one day, and will read it again. 

If you love cooking and cooking shows, World War II fiction, and strong female characters, you will enjoy this book.

The Kitchen Front will be released on February 23, 2021. I highly recommend it.

I received a free copy of this book from Random House Publishing Group via Netgalley. My review is voluntary.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer Ryan

Jennifer Ryan is the author of National Bestseller THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR, THE SPIES OF SHILLING LANE, and THE KITCHEN FRONT. Her writing has featured in Literary Hub, Moms Don’t Have Time to Write, The Daily Mail, The Irish Times, The Express, BBC Online, YOU Magazine, The Simple Things Magazine, and Good Reading Magazine. Previously a book editor with The Economist, DK, and the BBC, she moved from London to Washington, DC after marrying, and she now lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two children. Her novels are inspired by her grandmother’s tales of the war in Britain.

JENNIFER RYAN’S WEBSITE

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(Released February 23, 2021)

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Vegetable Simple

Vegetable simple is a lovely cookbook with gorgeous pictures that provides recipes for vegetables that can be done often in the simplest and freshest ways. My favorite so far is the romaine caesar gratin, where you actually broil the parmesan on the top of the romaine before serving. Ingenious idea. I also want to try the Vidalia Onion Risotto and Vegetable Lasagna. In the summer when garden tomatoes are available I plan to try Tomato Croque Sel.

There are a few recipes that are not as simple as the title implies, but overall this book uses recipes with fresh ingredients and simple methods to help you prepare wonderful and healthy food.

I received a free advance review digital copy of this book from Random House via Netgalley. My review is voluntary.

This book will be released April 20, 2021.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Ripert is the chef and co-owner of the New York restaurant Le Bernardin, which holds three Michelin stars and has maintained a four-star rating from The New York Times for more than two decades. He is vice chairman of the board of City Harvest, a New York-based food rescue organization, as well as a recipient of the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor. He serves as a regular guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef and is the host of his own TV series, Avec Eric, which has won Emmy and James Beard awards. Ripert is the author of five cookbooks—My Best: Eric RipertAvec EricOn the LineA Return to Cooking, and Le Bernardin: Four Star Simplicity—and a New York Times bestselling memoir, 32 Yolks.

Link to Preorder Vegetable Simple

Link to My Goodreads Review

Chasing Flavor

Chasing Flavor is an amazing cookbook by Dan Kluger that is true to its name and helps you get the absolute best flavor into your food. He starts with suggestions for pantry and kitchen equipment to help you make his recipes. He shows different techniques, such as how to cut and blanch vegetables, make pasta, and slice brisket. The cookbook is full of great ideas, such as adding pureed cauliflower to tomato soup so you get creaminess without dairy, or turning chicken nuggets into something insanely special by adding a maple chile glaze. 

Among the recipes I plan to try are Cashew Vinaigrette, Crushed Cucumbers with Yogurt and Chiles, Heirloom Tomato Panzanella with Parmesan Croutons, Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Fermented Chile Sauce, Grandma Pie, Raisin Stuffed Pork Loin, and Pan Roasted Chicken Breasts with Warm Potato Salad.

I received a free, temporary digital copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley. My review is voluntary.