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Susan Axelrod

Susan Axelrod's food writing career began in the kitchen; she owned a restaurant and catering business for 15 years before turning to journalism. By day, she is the social media editor for Portland Press Herald. To relax, she bakes, gardens and hikes with her husband and their two dogs, preferably followed by a cocktail or a Maine beer. Susan can be contacted at 791-6310 or saxelrod@mainetoday.com On Twitter: @susansaxelrod

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Maine a la Carte with Susan Axelrod
Posted: June 11, 2013

Erin French brings her kitchen to the farm in a vintage Airstream trailer

Erin French gets ready for a little demo to retrofit her circa 1965 Airstream trailer with a chef’s kitchen. Photo: Erin French/Facebook

A note on Erin French’s Facebook page today says: “7/5/13…mark your calendar, get excited, stay tuned…” That could just be the launch date for French’s next venture after closing her Belfast restaurant, The Lost Kitchen, this spring – a mobile kitchen in a vintage Airstream trailer. I spoke to French last week as she was excitedly waiting for the trailer, a circa 1965 Tradewind model, to arrive from yes, Bat Cave, N.C.

“I found it online for sale; it was a pretty quick, done deal,” she said. To celebrate the trailer’s arrival, French was planning a “retro 1960s party” for that evening, with pigs-in-a-blanket, a salad with Catalina dressing and an angel food cake.

French with the trailer’s vintage stove. Photo: Erin French/Facebook

Prospective diners shouldn’t expect that kind of menu when French parks the Airstream later this summer at say, Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch’s Four Seasons Farm in Harborside.The food she will cook and serve at her “steel to fork” dinners will be similar to what attracted the attention of The New York Times and the James Beard Foundation, which invited her to cook at the Beard House in New York City last month. The dinner was titled “Modern Maine Farmhouse … rustic, artful, farm-to-table fare that’s truly at the forefront of the locavore movement.”

French’s plan is to tow the trailer to farms, where she will set up her kitchen “so it’s part of the scene … “We’re going to go to the farms and pick the food in the morning … We’ll pull the Airstream up close to the barn and it will have a canopy that will pull out” so guests, who will be seated at tables in the barn, will be able to watch and interact with her as she cooks. “I’m trying to keep it as simple and as personal as possible,” she said.

French expects the dinners to be three nights a week — Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday — at each location. The farms and farmers are those who supplied The Lost Kitchen: in addition to Four Seasons, they include David’s Folly Farm in Brooksville and Village Farm in Freedom.

“Now that I’ve made all of these connections and relationships with all these farms I want to continue to support that” she said. “My goal is to spend the month of June working on the trailer and we’re planning a launch party at our family farm (in Freedom),” she said. “We have an old barn that’s been converted into a really lovely dining space.”

Asked if she had named the trailer, French said she was “thinking of calling it Lemonade, because it’s something sweet made out of a sour situation. I know it’s a girl.”

Her myriad fans were stunned and disappointed when French dropped out of sight for several weeks this spring, right before she was to open The Lost Kitchen for the season. Initially, she promised to return, but the space has now been taken over by nationally known chef Matthew Kenney, who opened a restaurant, The Gothic, there on Saturday.

With the trailer, French says she’s returning to how she started cooking professionally, running a popular, “secret” supper club also called The Lost Kitchen. “The prix-fixe menu was really where we were shining and creating a positive experience for people,” she said. “And I’d come out and speak about the food, where we got it or where it came from and it just made a lovely experience that I loved. I’m going back to my supper club roots, also I feel like it’s my direction that I’m supposed to go in. … Going a little rogue.”

 Susan Axelrod email: saxelrod@mainetoday.com. On Twitter: susansaxelrod

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