Annemarie Ahearn at her Salt Water Farm Cooking School in Lincolnville, Maine
Annemarie Ahearn’s story of finding her way in the country epitomizes the dream any food centric city-dweller might have about making the move to greener pastures. Annemarie left a job in NYC as the personal assistant to a celebrity chef and in less than five years in the country has built a celebrated cooking school, written articles for numerous high-profile food magazines, opened a restaurant that has been praised by the New York Times, Washington Post, etc. and she is now working on her first cookbook scheduled to release next year. Her cooking empire was built from the ground up, first starting with opening the Salt Water Farm cooking school in Lincolnville, Maine.
Salt Water Farm cooking school operates out of a converted barn, moved from her family’s former homestead in Wisconsin, with sweeping views of the Maine coastline. After several years running the school, she set her sights on opening a restaurant. In 2013, Salt Water Farm Café opened. Her girl-next-door smile and warm manner has a way of instantly relaxing people, she knows nearly all of her customers by name, even the ones who only come in the summer. Her poise, strength and hard work have carried her through the multitude of ups and downs that come with opening, running and maintaining a restaurant and cooking school.
In the summertime, like most Mainers, she is working like a madwoman juggling teaching at the cooking school, working at the restaurant, freelance writing and catering jobs. Her favorite way to unwind is coming home at lunch break and laying face down on her grass for 20 minutes before rushing off to the next thing. She has actually had several neighbors come by to check to make sure she is still breathing.
Annemarie's home is built entirely around her kitchen, as it should be. She and her husband, Nathan (and their two giant Australian sheep dogs, Moose and Moxie) spend nearly all of their winter free time cooking and entertaining in this multi-use space. In 2017, Annemarie's first cookbook Full Moon Suppers was published by Roost Books and her and her husband welcomed their first child into the world. Annemarie is busy juggling parenthood with working on her second cookbook due to come out next year. Through hard work and determination, she has steadfastly built a cooking empire with reach far beyond the quaint New England town she now calls home. (Click to jump to her interview)
Q & A
What inspired you to move to the country?
There was something missing from my life in NYC, despite the fact that I had a great job, a great apartment and plenty of friends. I suspected it was the natural beauty of a place like Maine and I was proven right upon arrival. I remember pulling my U-Haul into the driveway on a late spring day and walking down to the ocean with the dogs. They jumped in immediately, and I think we finally all felt free.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
Leaving my friends behind. Not knowing what lay ahead. Feeling alone and without a partner to help me build a new life. Gaining respect as a young, female business owner in a pretty tight community. The greatest challenge of all would come later with the opening of my restaurant, which was not well-received by the community. It made me feel as though despite all the goodwill I had created with the cooking school and supper club, I had to start over, once again seeking approval from a community that is opposed to change. And then there was trying to find a partner. That took a while. The dating scene in Maine wasn’t exactly plentiful.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
I love country living. There was a pretty substantial learning curve involved in certain aspects of it: growing food, raising chickens, preserving meats and vegetables, caring for honey bees and making cider. What I love most is the cyclical nature of it, the seasons changing and our daily lives being a function of that change. I love aspects of each season: cross country skiing in the winter, planting seeds in the spring, picking berries in the summer and apples in the fall. I could no longer live in a place without seasons.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
Very little. I think I was always meant to live in the country. I love going back to the city to visit, going out to eat, seeing old friends, checking out what's driving the markets. And I love New York…it’s an incredible place. I just don’t want to live in a city anymore.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
Again, seasonal change. The elements. The way the ocean and the landscape humbles your very existence.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Why are you doing it? What do you want out of a rural life? If it’s more money, stay put. If it’s a lifestyle you're after, I highly recommend it.
When you go back to visit the city, what are the first three things on your to-do list?
Go to my favorite restaurants, most of which have become institutions at this point. Walk through the farmers market in Union Square and go to Barnes & Noble, sit on the floor for hours and read every new cookbook. We don’t have access to these things in Maine.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
From an innate desire to feed people and watch them fall in love with the cooking process.
Have you noticed a change in yourself and/or your work since moving away from the city?
For sure. My style of cooking has changed dramatically. It is much less technique and recipe driven and much more focused on resourcefulness and instinct. I cook whole vegetables, meat on the bone and found ingredients. I cook over fire, experiment with fermentation and make everything from scratch.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence?
I wake up, feed and water the dogs and chickens, fire up the wood stove, put on the kettle and then sit down to check my email. Depending on the season, I’ll either put in a few hours on the farm, or at the restaurant or teach a class at the cooking school. Then, I’ll either host at the restaurant or have friends over for dinner or go to someone else’s house for a dinner party. Much of my life, well really all of my life, centers around food.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
Killing a chicken, swimming in freezing salt water, using an axe and building fires, all kinds of country cooking and lastly, I hang out with a much wider demographic of people. In the city, I mostly hung out with other 20 somethings. Here, I spend my time with people of all ages.
Do you have a specific space or place that helps you feel inspired?
My home, which I treasure. My kitchen with the wood stove burning. My backyard, which has a little kitchen garden, my sweet little chickens, my dogs trying to get into the compost pile and a hammock that hangs between two old apple trees.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to understand about life in small communities?
Yes, the cost of living is cheaper, but there are very few jobs for young people unless you are a tradesman.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
I’m writing a cookbook entitled “The Full Moon Suppers” Cookbook, in addition to running my cafe and market in Rockport, Maine and my cooking school and farm in Lincolnville, Maine.