Where are you from and how did you end up in Maine?
I’m originally from Nicholson, Pennsylvania, which is smaller than Greenville, if you can believe it. There’s not even a flashing light in my hometown, but it’s really cute. Our claim to fame is the Tunkhannock Viaduct.
I came to Maine in 1999 and worked as a private chef on Mount Desert Island for the summer and fell in love with Maine. I returned to Maine years later to visit my college friend and basically never left.
What is your first food memory?
I had a Ukrainian great-grandmother, and she was an amazing cook. We used to celebrate Russian Orthodox Christmas with cabbage soup, borscht, pierogis, and this sweet white farmhouse bread. Baking bread is still one of my favorite smells.
What are some early cooking experiences?
I have tons of these, because my family revolves around the kitchen. When I was small, I would watch my Gramma make apple pie, and she would talk to me about how to properly set a table.
Any family influences?
My whole line of products is based around how I thought my Gramma would want it, with a touch of sophistication from my background in culinary arts and design.
Where did you study?
I realized I wanted to and could be a chef while I was working at Jack’s Firehouse in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was in college, but really found my creative outlet in cooking. Then I went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After that, I moved to New York City and worked at Montrachet, which was located in TriBeCa. It was a swanky little French Mediterranean restaurant. I learned a lot there.
When did you realize you were a chef?
I became a chef after attending the Culinary Institute of America. I had to earn it.
How did your business start?
I started Northwoods Gourmet Girl when I was pregnant with my son. I was having a hard time in the beginning and only craved ketchup and French Fries. I had always subscribed to a healthy way of eating, but now with the impending birth, I was even more conscientious about my choices.
When I was five months pregnant, I had an accident in the kitchen and suffered second- and third-degree burns over a good portion of my left hand. So, that accident really helped me to sit back and grasp a vision and create the idea of NWGG.
Dustin was born in September 2005, and then in 2006 I moved into a commercial kitchen, hitting the ground running. Greenville, Maine isn’t exactly a booming metropolis, so it was necessary to create my own job to find happiness. It has not been easy.
What do you love about your location?
It’s beautiful here.
Anything fresh out of the garden.
Item featured here?
My country ketchup. It’s the first item I made and sold out of my home-based kitchen.
What is your favorite restaurant?
That’s not a fair question...for a chef! It changes daily, depending on what I’m hungry for. Right now, I’d like a goat cheese and caramelized onion pizza and a freezing-cold beer.
What is your least favorite job-related task?
I loathe doing the dishes.
When was the last time you surprised yourself in the kitchen?
I just built a brand new production kitchen, and I guess I look around every day and am surprised I pulled it off. My parents, Marcy and Bill Freethy, were instrumental in helping me build our new space. My dad spent four months this past year slaving away on the new building and helping my dreams come true.
The facility has a kitchen as well as a packing and shipping area. We built it with all green products. It’s just about 3000 square feet and it’s going to allow us to move to the next phase and expand. If my figures look right, we’ll have to expand again in another couple of years.
What does a perfect day off look like?
A warm summer day on the lake with a picnic, my boy, and my dog.
What would your last meal be?
Country salad, steak frites with cognac-peppercorn sauce, chocolate cake, and a bottle of Opus One.
What do you love most about your job?
Autonomy and creativity. I don’t play well with others. I think that’s because I’m a highly creative person and need a way to be able to let that out. I wear so many different hats in a single day—some jobs I am way better at than others, but I need to be creating something.