Erin French, owner and chef of the illustrious Maine restaurant The Lost Kitchen, has had a winding road to success and she’s sharing it all in her new memoir, Finding Freedom. Erin recounts the highs and lows of her life so far and tells Zibby that while reliving it all was incredibly hard, she knows that if her story helps just one person then it would have all been worth it.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Erin. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story; Remaking a Life from Scratch.

Erin French: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: It’s my pleasure. Wow, you have such an amazing life story. You wrote about it so beautifully in this book. Would you mind just telling listeners why you even decided to write this memoir and what it’s essentially about?

Erin: I know some people think, why are you spilling all your guts here in this book? One part was really writing it for myself and writing it because I had a lot of things I hadn’t quite put together yet and I hadn’t quite fully processed or digested in a healthy way. I had to have some closure and put it down in my own words. Part of it was writing it to myself. Then the other part was really to share this story for other people, to give them hope and maybe feel a little less alone if they’ve had their own struggle or their own feelings of deep darkness and despair. To be able to see my own depths and my own highs, maybe that would provide a little bit of inspiration.

Zibby: One aspect of your life of the many that are interesting, you decided you wanted to leave your small town of Freedom in Maine and go out into the world, particularly into Boston which was your dream destination. You got these two college acceptances. You got a free ride to the University of Maine. You and your mom were kind of in cahoots and decided, you know what, forget that, let’s just go with your dream school in Boston and see where life will take you. You go. You reunite with an old boyfriend and get pregnant and then have all this pressure to perhaps not have the baby. Then you have your son. You feel like your life is over. You have to return back to your town. You missed your shot in the world. Take me back to that moment, which of course was not true. Not that other outcomes wouldn’t have been equally amazing, but you’ve ended up founding this fantastic restaurant, cultish, amazing destination, and really persevered through so much abuse and difficult partners and all the rest. Take me back to that moment when you found out you were pregnant and you were worried that your life was over, if you don’t mind.

Erin: There’s a thing about growing up in a rural, small town. It always felt like it was this quiet, unsaid something that you can’t do anything meaningful or special in the middle of nowhere. I knew that to get that chance for almost an escape to get away from here — going to Boston just felt like that dream come true. Girls like me don’t get that chance. You made it. You made it out of here. You’re going places. You’re going to live your dreams. Then to feel it come crashing down and realize that with one decision you’ve squandered everything with a choice that you made and an accident that may have happened, I really came home feeling deflated and depressed and frustrated with myself. My family was frustrated with me, just this gross disappointment that ended up being one of the greatest joys of my life. That’s the way it goes sometimes. It was a really challenging time to think that I had messed up my one chance.

Zibby: You talked about the closeness you had with your mom and how your father was not particularly supportive. Then I was interested to see, at the end, you said something like you weren’t sure he’d ever read this book or talk to you. I’m wondering what the status of your relationship now is. That’s a lot, the pressure that he put on you and the shame that he added to your pregnancy. Your mom was your BFF on this whole journey and really like a coparent with you as you raised your son. Tell me a little more about having to deal with that relationship and, as I saw your life unfolding with all these different men in your life, how you feel like maybe that relationship sort of set you off on a certain path or something. Not to give you a therapy session this morning.

Erin: I could use all the therapy I could get right now. It’s funny, you’re raised by these parents, and that is what you have as an example of what a relationship should be. My understanding of what a relationship was was only what I saw of my parents’ relationship, which was unhealthy. I wasn’t raised to understand that. I was raised that this was what was normal. I just thought this is the way that families behaved. It wasn’t really, gosh, until pretty much seven years ago that I realized that my parents’ relationship was toxic and that I had absorbed that. I got into my own toxic relationship. I had basically remarried my father. There were lots of my ex that had a lot of similarities. I was probably attracted to that because I thought that’s what was normal. I thought that’s what relationships were supposed to be. I’m very fortunate to have broken that pattern. Some people aren’t able because they don’t see the difference. I can tell you from being there, you don’t know the difference. You just think that you’re supposed to feel like crap every day. That’s just what love is. You don’t know it until you find another way.

Again, I do feel really fortunate to now be in a healthy marriage and to have broken through that. My mother even finally, through my own divorce, saw the dysfunction in her relationship and recognized that and was able to break free from her toxic marriage as well. My mother was a big supporter and by my side. My father, it was continual disappointment with him. I never quite could please him. As of late, the relationship continues to be strained. It always will be. That’s how relationships go. There’s no ending to the story. It’s constantly evolving. It’s a constant challenge. Over the past three years, we went without speaking. I just showed up and brought him some lilacs on his birthday this year. I brought him the audiobook because I knew he’d never read it, but he’s been listening to it. I needed him to hear that. I needed him to understand my point of view as his child, what that childhood looked like — I think it’s easy to gloss over as a parent, to maybe not recognize that — and see the different points of views of how actions affect people.

Zibby: I find this whole notion of even parents who end up harming kids — sometimes they’re just doing the best they can. This whole, when we’re adults, we end up forgiving parents for whatever shortcomings because they tried, I don’t know, I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Erin: That’s true. I’ve been recognizing my own faults as a parent as I’ve been, as an adult now, analyzing how my parents raised me and how that shaped me and recognizing how I became the person I did and maybe where the stubbornness came from, the good traits and the bad traits, and where they came from and why I am who I am. Your childhood, it’s so shaping of who you become. I look at my own son and have these fears of, what did I do in those moments? I knew that I was doing the best that I could’ve done. I’d love to get it all over again and do better because now I know better. In that place and in that time, it was the best that we all could do. That’s the thing. We have this expectation of parents to be these perfect beings that are supposed to be this pinnacle of perfection. It’s just impossible to be a perfect parent. It’s so, so hard. No one gives you a manual. It’s definitely a struggle. I’ll see what my kid writes about me in his memoirs.

Zibby: Seriously. Sometimes I think about that. I’m like, oh, no, is this going to go in the book of my shortcomings eventually? Doing all these podcasts. No, I’m kidding. You had the most amazing writing about your divorce and also the very dark place that you got to when your whole restaurant was burned to the ground. Not burned, but demolished. The locks were changed. Your whole life’s work was taken away, oh, my gosh. I wanted to just read a little bit of this section if that’s okay. You said, “I scribbled my signature at the bottom of the form, and I walked down the hallway back toward my room plotting my discharge. I would check myself out, I would fly home, and I would kill Tom.” This is after you realized everything that had happened. “I would kill him with the anger that was raging like wildfire through my body. I would kill him for all the lies he had told me, the pain he had caused me, and everything he had stolen from me. I wanted to strangle him with my bare hands. I wanted to feel what it felt like to squeeze every single last drop of air from his lungs and watch his face gasp with panic until his lying blue eyes turned gray and rolled back into his head. I wanted him to feel the pain and fear that he made me feel. I rolled into my bed with the murderous thoughts. If I killed Tom, they would know it was me. It was too easy. I’d spend my life in prison.” Then you have this suicidal ideation and then decided not to do it, thank god. It was your son and his calling to you that roped you back in and that made you put down the shoelaces. What a point of life. Take me back just for two seconds to that moment.

Erin: Just hearing you say that, I was like, oh, my god, crazy woman.

Zibby: No, no, no, I feel like everybody can relate. Everybody, at times, has these feelings that they’re like, oh, my gosh, what can I do?

Erin: There’s a difference between feeling it and acting upon it. Let’s be very clear. I think it’s human to have these emotions. That’s describing a moment when I call home. I’m in a rehab facility dealing with prescription drugs and depression. I’ve called home to find out that my ex-husband has taken all of my life’s work. He has locked the doors on the restaurant. I find out that I was only on the mortgage. I wasn’t on the deed. He had lied to me. My restaurant has been closed. My staff has been fired. He has seized everything while I’m in recovery. It was this moment of — I lost my home. I lost my business. He’s taken my son. I let my ex-husband adopt my son because I was a single mom when I met him. I’ve lost everything that mattered in my life. That feeling of self-hatred for myself, hatred for this person who had just taken everything that I loved and cared about in one cruel momentary sweep, I’ve never felt such a deep, wild emotion of just the biggest smack in your face you could ever imagine, and nothing you could do about it. I was in lockdown at that point and just swirling through of trying to figure out how to go through it. Luckily, I was in a place that was able to help me deal with those emotions and help me move through that and get to a better place.

Zibby: Now take me up on the upswing where you have this wildly successful restaurant. You managed to rebuild everything, which is amazing, such an accomplishment, and really tapping into this whole — tell me what it’s like now on the other side, having reached those lows, to be on this high, I’m assuming, but I shouldn’t assume.

Erin: That’s why I wanted to tell this story, because no one really knew about the lows. They only saw the bright and shiny highs. It may have looked like this young woman in the middle nowhere opens this restaurant that’s filled with flowers. It’s by a waterfall. Nobody can get in because everyone wants to eat there. It just sounds so dreamy and romantic when the truth was this place would never be here if I hadn’t tumbled through all of those moments and fought to rebuild my life, fought to find a healthy way to rebuild my life and find a good life. I was living in a very toxic, toxic life. That’s the main message. Sometimes you have to tumble. You just have to become a mess to get to the other side. You have to get through that. I recognize that now, that I would never be right here without all of those deep, dark, hard moments that occurred. Now feeling thankful to be living a good life up here and running this restaurant. It just still mystifies me that it’s one of the hardest restaurants to get into the country, which is terrifying to me. The pressure of having to make that a reality for people who are coming here expecting the best meal of their lives, it’s a lot of pressure, but it does keep pushing me, and pushing me to become a better cook and a better hostess and to care for people so deeply. It’s a nice push.

Zibby: I love your use of the word tumble. So often, people talk about falling. That seems so static. To fall means you fall, and you’re in one place. To tumble suggests — I’m doing a wheely motion with my hands. You don’t just hit one place. You fall, and then it makes you go into places. You have to bounce back. It’s not a one-time thing. It’s in motion.

Erin: I once had a therapist who, when I was deep, deep into therapy and going in the depths of all this crap in my life, she said, “I have something for you.” She handed me this little, black, smooth rock. She said, “I want to tell you about this rock. It comes from an island off the coast of Maine,” which is where I live. It’s this stone that has been tumbling and going through the waves. It’s survived all these Maine winters and nor’easters. It keeps crashing and tumbling and going through. Look at what it is. Now it’s this beautiful stone. It wouldn’t be so soft and smooth and beautiful if it hadn’t gone through all that hell. That’s my little token that I keep with me. I remember sometimes, you got to tumble to find the beauty in things.

Zibby: Oh, I love that. I just love that. Wow. So how was it writing this book and having to relive all of this? This must have been a really intense experience to go from the restaurant and then mining all of the pain of the past to create this manuscript.

Erin: It was definitely one of the most challenging things that I’ve done in my life, to have to go back and relive it. My family was extremely patient. There were moments when I would have to make phone calls to family members and say, hey, do you remember how this went down? Am I remembering this correctly? They were reliving these moments with me. It was challenging. I could be working on a piece all day long. Then I’d come out of my room and have to make dinner and remind my family, say, I’m really sorry if I’m in a bad mood, but I’m in 2004 right now. That’s where my brain is. I would have to take myself back to those moments to really immerse myself to be able to describe them and recount them. It was kind of a personal therapy journal, almost, for myself to go back and really think about those moments more in-depth. Some of them, for survival mode, I had just pushed through them just to get through and survive and didn’t really take the time to process it and accept and put it to bed. This was my opportunity to do that and relive it and hopefully not have to do it too many more times. It empowered me to have that moment to be able to be okay with it. I found more acceptance than I had expected through it as well.

Zibby: What is it like knowing that everybody knows your story now?

Erin: It was harder the days and the months leading up to the publication because I’d really almost written this as a journal to myself of recounting it, in a way. Then realizing that it was going live, there was a lot of anxiety. The day that it came out, it was almost like this huge breath of air just came back into my lungs of feeling, okay, this is who I am. People will read it. You’ll either love me or you’ll hate me. At least, you know who I am so you can make that judgement on your own. That felt important.

Zibby: I’m writing this memoir now myself. There are some parts where I’m like, this doesn’t reflect particularly well on me. Do I really want people to know? I could just as easily not put it in and have people not know, but is that the truth? I don’t know. In picking what to include, I feel like it’s a challenge. How badly do you want people to think about you?

Erin: For me, it was important to let people know because I knew that the messy moments that I was sharing, I felt so sure that there were other people who had experienced that too. That’s something I learned in rehab. When you found that you were in safe place and that you could open up and talk about those things, all of a sudden, you discover that you aren’t the only one. You discover that someone else felt that way. It just made things feel lighter. Oh, it’s not that dirty. You’re not the only one. You’re human. There are zillions of other people who have gone through this. They may not talk about it because it may not be romantic. It may not be cute. It may not be sweet, but it’s important to recognize our imperfections and recognize that we’re doing what we can do. That’s where I found strength, when I’ve found groups of other people who understand because they’ve been through it. I think sharing those stories can be so important, not just for your own life because you survived it, but for other people. I knew that that could be important for their own survival of saying, whoa, you felt that and now you’re here? You got through it? I knew if I touched just one person and it changed their life then this book would all be worth it. It didn’t matter how many people didn’t like me because of my imperfections. I know that that job has been accomplished at this point.

Zibby: That’s great. What is coming next for you now?

Erin: Oh, gosh. We’re right in the middle — we’re filming for our show right now. We have another cookbook on the horizon. We the sold the rights to the book, so it’s being possibly produced into film. Then the restaurant, which is just the guiding light out here, we just opened this past weekend. That’s why I look so tired right now. Back to sixteen-hour days and just trying to get back to normal after COVID with the restaurant and get back into some service.

Zibby: Tell me more about the show, when you said back to filming.

Erin: We’ve got our show on the Magnolia Network. We’re just filming away out here.

Zibby: Amazing. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Erin: It’s so funny because I have a hard time considering myself an author. Still, I look at that book and the day it showed up and I held it in my hands — I dropped out of college. I’m holding a book, three hundred pages, that I wrote. Was really a wow moment. I’d say, have patience with yourself. Give yourself space. I always had to find a nice, quiet space. I’d always have little notebooks that I’d leave next to my bed when I’d have a thought. Sometimes I’d be in the car. I’d leave myself a voice memo and be like, talk about this moment. It comes to you. With me, it would just come to me at certain moments.

Zibby: You could definitely call yourself an author. Your book was beautiful and amazing. I’m so glad you wrote it and that we all got to live through it. I have so much respect for you and all the things you’ve overcome and what you’ve created. It’s really amazing. Thank you for letting us all into your life.

Erin: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Zibby: If somebody were coming to your restaurant, last question, what should they get? What’s your favorite thing that you make? What’s your go-to?

Erin: That’s the great thing about the restaurant. You don’t have to make any decisions. It’s all prix fixe. It’s just whatever I’m making for dinner that night. It’s a ten-course dinner. You just come and you sit down. We change the menu every day. We’ll just fill you up with food. No decisions to be made.

Zibby: Okay, great.

Erin: It’s like going to a friend’s dinner party for the night and not having to think about anything.

Zibby: Awesome. Erin, thank you so much. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Take care.

Erin: Bye.

Zibby: Bye.



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