BUXTON, MAINE—The sun was high but the New England breeze felt like fall as a team of cooks bustled in the kitchen at the Barn at Flanagan Farm. As the crew prepped beets, tomatoes, bacon, eggs and peaches, Alexandra Collins Wight was checking off a list of silverware for her fifth monthly barn dinner.
Wight lives in Cobble Hill, but since March she’s made a monthly trip to her native Maine and opened the barn doors for Flanagan’s Table, a dinner series that unites 50 hungry visitors with a guest chef under historic rafters on gorgeous rolling acres about 20 miles west of Portland.
In Wight’s mind, “The setting doesn’t dictate the food you serve.” So although this is a barn, don’t picture barbecue and corn on the cob. Instead, the menu is a precisely planned five-course meal, courtesy of Jason Loring, the head chef of Portland’s gastronomic hot-spot Nosh, beginning with a fizzy flute of Prosecco.
Wight attended the Institute of Culinary Education and has been contributing to Brooklyn’s culinary community since 2008, clocking hours as a chef in various kitchens and as a recipe tester and food stylist for television and photo shoots. But in 2011, as the birth of her first child approached, she decided it was time to spend more time with her family—which unexpectedly turned into developing her own restaurant project several states away.
That’s because while Wight was pregnant, her mother, Gail Landry, brought another bundle of joy into the family—in the form of Flanagan’s Farm. She’d been running a nearby barn as a wedding and event space; when the property came up for sale, she bought the 66-acre estate and began restoring its buildings, some built as early as the 1890s. She planned to rent it out for more picturesque weddings—but also wanted to give back to Maine. So upon buying the farm, Landry granted an “agricultural easement” to the Maine Farmland Trust, which means it can never be sold for subdivisions or other commercial construction. Today, on approach to the property, a green sign along Narragansett Trail proudly boasts “Forever Farm.”
As for preserving the barn itself, Landry hired a team of carpenters to repurpose the century-old floorboards into a bar area and dining tables for the space, while adding an updated kitchen for serious meals. Empty except for occasional private events, it could house a sublimely beautiful pop-up restaurant. She just needed someone to run it—and she had the perfect person in mind.
When asked how she picks the guest chefs for Flanagan’s Table, Wight says she made a dream list and started pitching. It has paid off, as her roster includes such well-known names as Andrew Taylor and Michael Wiley from Eventide Oyster Co., Masa Miyake from Pai Men Miyake and Melissa Kelly from Primo. Dinner tickets run $100 to $120 a seat and tend to sell out within a day. Buyers form an eclectic mix of family friends, followers of the guest chefs and anyone looking for something special.
Which is what they get. Sophisticated plates at the August dinner included salt-cured duck prosciutto with velvety creamed corn; a perfectly textured duck egg (cooked for one hour at precisely 149 degrees); and oil-braised pork belly, its succulence balanced by mustardy anchovy and basil-parsley-thyme salsa verde. It’s ain’t your typical New England potluck, but while Wight’s husband tends bar, her stepfather cheerfully parks guests’ cars and her teenage sisters serve, it’s impossible not to feel like you’re part of the family.
Long after sunset, appetites satisfied and the last grilled peaches and local peaches polished off, guests began to make their way out into the night air, each sent home with a local donut, wrapped up for the next day’s breakfast. While some lingered around a fire pit savoring one more drink and Wight helped her mother load the dishwasher and sweep the barn floor, a guest had just one question: “When is the next dinner?”