Chef Erin French Serves Up Comfort to Readers
In her new memoir, the Lost Kitchen founder finds Freedom.
When Erin French set out to write her memoir, it wasn’t to fulfill a dream of becoming a writer. In fact, the self-taught chef and owner of the Lost Kitchen in Freedom had never harbored any ambition to write. She told her story because she realized it would help people.
French is driven by a need to care for others—her family, her friends, the strangers that travel from all over the world to eat at her restaurant—and cooking happens to be the way she knows how to do it best. “When I wasn’t finding joy in other places, making something and watching someone’s reaction to it gave me this endorphin-like feeling that I was doing something right,” French says. “There’s no greater feeling than witnessing someone being touched by something that you did.”
When she learned that the personal vignettes she included in her 2017 cookbook, The Lost Kitchen, spoke to others going through hard times, she says she felt compelled to start writing her memoir. Finding Freedom: A Cook’s Story, Remaking a Life from Scratch was published April 6. “When I started to write my cookbook, the words just flowed out of me,” French says. “I’d found this new little something that I enjoyed.” Three years later, that “little something” has grown into a 300-page memoir chronicling her past struggles—an unexpected pregnancy during her freshman year of college, issues with addiction, a nasty divorce that stripped her of her first restaurant—and how she has she found her way back home to Freedom. “I was on the brink of ending my life, and now I’ve got one of the hardest restaurants in the country to get into,” she says. “I hope that that’s a beacon of hope for people, and that it helps them to think, ‘I’ve got to dig deep and get through this.’”
French’s caregiving urge affects everything she does. When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, French’s top priority (aside from figuring out how to keep her business afloat) was to make sure her team and the farmers that she works with could survive, so she started an online farmers’ market. Last year French also starred in a TV series about the Lost Kitchen produced by the Magnolia Network, introduced lunch service instead of dinner during the summer, and built cabins near the restaurant for dining outdoors in the cooler months.
French says the most excruciating part of writing the memoir was having to relive her hardships: “It was challenging for my heart. It was challenging for my family. I’d have to warn them and say, ‘I’m having a bit of a bad day today because I’m in 1992 right now.’” While the motivation for writing the book came from wanting to help others, French says she found clarity on her past experiences— good and bad—as she went through the process. “Re-experiencing it all over again was very different because I knew the end of the story this time,” French says. “I didn’t know the end of the story then when I was living it, and I didn’t know that it was going to end up happy.”