A Taste of What’s to Come | Recipes from Season 2 of Weekends with Yankee

Join food editor Amy Traverso for a behind-the-scenes tour of the places, people and recipes featured on season two of Weekends with Yankee.

By Amy Traverso

Feb 22 2018

Photo Credit : Megan Haley

The drive from midcoast Maine to the Lost Kitchen is a northwesterly trek through woodsy back roads punctuated by stone-walled fields and a glimmering string of lakes and ponds. In a van loaded with camera equipment, we’re racing to reach New England’s most sought-after restaurant before diners arrive. As we head inland, the towns’ names turn from Rockport and Northport to abstractions: Liberty, Hope, and, finally, Freedom.

The Lost Kitchen, Maine
In a culinary highlight of season 2, the Weekends with Yankee crew treks to Freedom, Maine, to meet chef Erin French (above left) and get a peek at her “holy grail” of a restaurant, the Lost Kitchen (above center and right).
Photo Credit : ©2017 Nicole Franzen

Finally, Freedom could be the title of chef Erin French’s memoir, should she ever write one. She was a young kid here, flipping burgers in her dad’s diner, before leaving for bigger adventures in Boston and California. After having a child, she returned to Maine and picked up baking and catering jobs, mastering wedding cakes and dinner for 50. In Belfast, she drew together those skills, all her courage, and a preternatural talent for making things beautiful—dishes, table-scapes, rooms—and opened the original Lost Kitchen with her husband, first as a semisecret weekly supper club in her apartment and then as a real restaurant in a flatiron building on Main Street. The menu was dictated by whatever was local and in season; the seafood, vegetables, fruit, cheeses, and meats all came from Maine. Her avid customer base was only partly local, as word quickly traveled far beyond midcoast Maine. But then everything fell apart: Her marriage imploded and took the restaurant with it. French and her son came home to Freedom in 2013 to figure out what to do next.

The answer that seemed so unlikely five years ago looks inevitable now, in light of her success: to take over the first floor of Freedom’s newly renovated 1834 gristmill and turn it into a restaurant. To see if those adoring crowds would drive 17 miles inland to taste her food again.

Freedom is a tiny place. There were 716 inhabitants here in 1870, and that number has barely ticked up since. But once word got out about a seemingly magical restaurant in middle-of-nowhere Maine, the diehards came back—and then the world came calling. The new Lost Kitchen opened on, appropriately enough, Independence Day 2015, and soon everyone wanted in. By 2017, demand had reached the point that when the reservation line opened for the season at midnight on April 1, the town’s phone system became so log-jammed that it set off alarms at the fire station. Thousands of people were hitting redial, redial, redial. At about 1 a.m. French posted on Facebook, sounding like an eyewitness to a flood: “This is bigger than us … thousands of calls pouring in. Doing our best to keep up … please bear with us….”

French knows that those who are lucky enough to nab these coveted spots are expecting the meal of a lifetime. They’ve worked hard to get here, and she’s fiercely protective of their experience. So when a stranger walks into the restaurant with a tall tale about a phone message left by … he can’t remember the chap’s name, but he said there might be a cancellation tonight … a staffer politely sends him on his way. “We don’t have cancellations,” she tells me, “and we’re all women here.” (There is one male dishwasher, TJ, but he mostly sticks to the basement prep kitchen.)

Our small TV crew knows that getting permission to film here is the proverbial golden ticket, so we all do our best to remain unobtrusive, sticking to the edge of the room as diners make their way through the cheese, salad, sorbet, and lamb courses. I watch the careful choreography as French’s team arranges little bouquets of herbs and edible flowers, a French signature, atop beds of greens while she works the stove in the open kitchen. With each course, she takes a break to mingle with guests or tell a story, or dance. She says she wants the dining room to feel like an extension of her home, so every object is curated to her taste, from the jadeite sorbet dishes shaped like hens to the commanding floral arrangements that she composes from whatever is growing locally: sawed-off birch branches, amaranth, dahlias. Her staffers—mostly farmers who also supply the restaurant when they’re not waiting tables—move around the room with practiced ease. As dusk turns to night, they bring out a new round of candles, because French likes how it refreshes the eye. This may be rural Maine, but there’s an element of High Church in the ritual tranquility.

As I watch dinner unfold, director of cinematography Alan Weeks and sound engineer Christoph Gelfand weave among the tables to get closeups while Rennik Soholt, our director, keeps an eye on a monitor in the lobby. Every shoot day on Weekends with Yankee is an attempt to capture something essential about New England via the extraordinary experiences we’ve curated into a 13-episode season. When guests step out for a break—from arrivals to final toasts, this is a four-hour experience—we grab interviews with the willing. They emerge from the dining room with the radiantly transfigured look of converts.

“Was it worth the trouble getting here?” I ask. “Oh yes,” they say. “Oh my God, yes.”

A visit to the Lost Kitchen was just one adventure that my cohost, Richard Wiese, and I filmed for this new season of Weekends with Yankee. The following stories and recipes offer a taste of the show’s food segments, with behind-the-scenes insights into how we bring Yankee to life onscreen.

The Lost Kitchen

In her 2017 cookbook, The Lost Kitchen: Recipes and a Good Life Found in Freedom, Maine, Erin French writes: “My Gram wasn’t the best cook, but pies were her thing. I can still taste the sugary graham cracker crust she’d press into the tins and then top off with creamy vanilla pudding. We’d sell them at the diner, finished off with a mountain of whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. I dress up my version with a spray of Johnny-jump-ups or any other edible flower I can find.”

We adapted French’s recipe to put the deliciousness of a perfectly made graham cracker crust front and center, We love how she elevates a simple dish with attention to presentation and technique. It’s typical of French’s approach to food: Start with great ingredients, distill the flavor, make it beautiful.

Get the Recipe: Graham Cracker Pie

Artisan Cheese and Hill Farmstead Brewery

Some of the best food we tasted while filming season 2 was in the aging rooms of Grafton Village Cheese and Jasper Hill Farm, two award-winning cheese makers located in small Vermont towns. Following the process from fresh vats of milk to fully aged wheels, then being able to pull samples of Grafton’s clothbound cheddar and Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue, was the kind of behind-the-scenes access that made filming such a delight.

Brewery Hill Farmstead, Vermont
In Vermont, cohost Amy Traverso got a chance to look around cult-favorite brewery Hill Farmstead and meet its founder, Shaun Hill (center).
Photo Credit : Chris Roslan

Then, just up the road from Jasper Hill, we tasted why Shaun Hill’s remote brewery, Hill Farmstead, has been named the best in the world for the past three years by influential craft beer site RateBeer. With dozens of ales, stouts, porters, and pilsners on offer, this is the only place where Hill’s fans can access the full range of his products. People come from all over the country to visit this windy hilltop, a former dairy farm that has been in Hill’s family for more than 200 years, and their enthusiasm is as irrepressible as the bold IPAs that make this place famous.

In honor of these three locations, I developed a recipe for cheddar-ale dip that combines all the Vermont flavors that still remain so vivid in my memory.

Get the Recipe: Vermont Cheddar-Ale Dip

Farm-to-Table at Chatham Bars Inn

Farm-to-Table at Chatham Bars Inn
Farm-to-Table at Chatham Bars Inn
Photo Credit : Megan Haley

On a clear blue August day, we arrived at the Farm at Chatham Bars Inn, an eight-acre property that turns out thousands of pounds of tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, carrots, and other produce for the inn’s three restaurants and the local community. It’s been a work in progress since 2012, when the inn purchased this former berry farm. “With a lot of work, you can turn Cape Cod soils into productive soils,” says farm manager Josh Schiff, explaining how his crew enriched the sandy earth with layer after layer of compost. It took a lot of investment, courtesy of inn owner Richard Cohen, a New York–based real estate investor, but there was a precedent here: In its earliest days, the inn was a hunting lodge for wealthy Bostonians that boasted an on-site dairy and vegetable farm—so Schiff’s efforts complete a circle.

Chatham Bars Inn Chef Anthony Cole
Working with Chatham Bars Inn executive chef Anthony Cole and inn farm manager Josh Schiff (far left), Amy lends a hand in the fields and in the kitchen for a locally sourced feast.
Photo Credit : Megan Haley

When we visited, Chatham Bars Inn’s executive chef, Anthony Cole, was hosting a farm-to-table dinner with guest chef Colin Lynch of Bar Mezzana in Boston. Part of a weekly summer dinner series that is open to the public, the meal featured Schiff’s produce, local seafood, and a great ocean view. We sat at a long communal table, passing plate after plate of roasted carrots with dates and herbed yogurt; sweet tomato salads; striped bass; and roasted sweet peppers with raisins and burrata. Fellow diners told me about their favorite new eateries: Sunbird and Vers in Orleans, Snowy Owl in Brewster. My list of must-try Cape restaurants kept expanding. It’s a good problem to have.

Get the Recipe: Colin Lynch’s Roasted Carrots with Herbed Yogurt Sauce

Foraging on Lake Winnipesaukee

During our trip to New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, chef Brendan Pelley of Boston’s Doretta Taverna and Raw Bar took me foraging for hen-of-the-wood mushrooms and sumac berries in a novel way: by golf cart. We were at his family’s cabin at the Arcadia Campground Association, a close-knit community of seasonal homes and campsites. Pelley grew up coming here, fishing and playing in the woods. When his chef training sparked an interest in foraging, he began finding edible treasures everywhere, including the little patches of ground between campsites. “People see me out here and think, What’s that Pelley kid up to now?” he said as he piloted the golf cart around the property. Once we had loaded up on edibles like sweet fern and goldenrod, he cooked up a delicious meal over a campfire, including this recipe for trout with wild mushrooms.

Foraging on Lake Winnipesaukee
In New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, Amy goes foraging with chef Brendan Pelley (left and center)—and checks out the view with director of cinematography Alan Weeks (right).
Photo Credit : Dylan Leavitt/WGBH

Get the Recipe: Brendan Pelley’s Pan-Seared Rainbow Trout with Mushrooms

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