Welcome to the November edition of My Kitchen, Their Table, an interview series with the chefs and culinary professionals who work hard to satisfy our small city’s big appetite. This month we’re featuring an interview with Lee Farrington and Bryna Gootkind from LB Kitchen. Photos and videos will continue to expand on the story throughout the rest of the month on instagram, so stay tuned.
Lunch and breakfast. Life and business. Lee and Bryna. The ‘LB’ in LB Kitchen has many meanings. Lee Farrington and Bryna Gootkind, partners in both life and business, opened the daytime eatery in 2017. The two met five years prior, just before Lee closed her former restaurant Figa. She listed the space for rent, but there was a part of her that wasn’t ready to let it go. On the way to the third meeting with a potential tenant, she looked at Bryna and said, “If they’re not going to take the space, I want you to shake my hand, and then let’s open something.” Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.
The partnership was a recipe for success. Bryna had the business experience while Lee had the kitchen experience. Lee went to culinary school at The International Culinary Center (ICC), formerly The French Culinary Institute, and then spent a decade cooking in prestigious kitchens throughout New York City. She perfected her craft at Balthazar, Tabla, and al di la Trattoria. Bryna also lived in New York City, though the two didn’t know each other then. She was a band manager for ten years before a career change to the natural foods industry. Bryna’s knowledge of single-origin superfoods largely influenced LB Kitchen’s “healthy-ish” menu — think blue-hued chai lattes made with spirulina and gluten-free pancakes laced with turmeric, cardamom, and ginger topped with grass-fed butter and real maple syrup.
On February 21, 2020, LB Kitchen turned three — right before the city went on lockdown. Lee and Bryna didn’t waste time though. They quickly transitioned to takeout and even launched a special menu called LB x Home. The new menu was a deconstructed version of their best dishes and offered everything from pints of bone broth and miso slaw to smoothie kits and raw cookie dough.
However, LB’s second location remained empty for months. In May 2020, Lee and Bryna announced the permanent closure of the West End location only ten months after its debut. What appeared to be a huge setback at first turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “We were back in our original location with our core group of people and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more secure. The pandemic was eye-opening in terms of the direction we wanted to go,” Lee explains.
With a clear vision of their business model and brand, LB Kitchen introduced a fresh new logo in November. The new logo is more graphic, less bowl-centric, as they transition away from a traditional restaurant model and into a lifestyle brand. “It feels like we’re going somewhere, even if we continue operating this way for years to come. It feels like our brand has progressed,” Bryna explains. LB Kitchen is currently open for takeout, limited patio dining, and delivery via CarHop, 2DineIn, and DoorDash. You can order online from the regular menu as well as “market” items like house made ferments, sauces, spreads, and other prepared items.
Continue reading to learn more about how Lee and Bryna’s food philosophies clashed at first, the secret ingredient in Lee’s famous wild boar dish, which Scarborough restaurant they’re ordering takeout from nearly every week, and where they go in Portland to celebrate special occasions.
AA: Lee, what was it like being the daughter of a Pan American airline pilot?
LF: I grew up in Kentucky, but was well-traveled starting at a young age. I was exposed to things that most people still aren’t even exposed to. I got to travel and taste other cuisines. The trip that changed my life was to France and Spain when I was fifteen years old. Having Mediterranean seafood on the coast of Spain was completely mind-blowing and being in Paris trying escargot for the first time was a game-changer. I knew then that I wanted to do something with food.
AA: How did your food philosophies differ prior to your partnership?
LF: It took a couple of years for us to get on the same page. (Before our relationship), I had a lot of meat and potatoes in my life. Then I dropped red meat and got rid of gluten. We started eating a ton of seafood, which is now my favorite food. It was different and enjoyable, but I also lost a lot of weight and just felt better.
AA: How did you come up with the concept for LB Kitchen?
BG: I don’t think either of us ever had this pipe dream of opening a health food restaurant. We didn’t want to put ourselves in a box or category that was limiting. The concept was born out of Lee and I as a couple and at a time and place in our lives. It’s something we are still so grateful for and oftentimes even still surprised by how much people are into it.
AA: How is LB Kitchen transitioning away from the traditional restaurant model?
BG: We decided to take the banquettes out of the dining area because they take up a lot of space. The difference between having twenty-one seats versus limitless pick-up is significant. The next phase includes constructional changes like redoing the facade, moving the door, adding sliding windows, and refining our operations inside.
AA: What are your favorite dishes at LB Kitchen?
LF: I used to do a wild boar dish at Figa that I carried over to LB Kitchen. It’s wild boar shoulder braised in a tomato-based sauce made with over twenty spices and served with coconut rice. My hidden weapon is jaggery. It’s concentrated sugar cane. It has a citrusy sweetness that is completely different from, say, brown sugar.
BG: Hands down for me it would be the avocado toast with our smoked African spice blend and truffle oil on Standard Baking Co. five-grain sourdough bread. It’s been on the menu since we opened. We’d eat it at home and be like, “We need to put this on the menu.” No one was serving avocado toast back then. You can also have it on our homemade gluten-free bread.
AA: Do you ever indulge in sweets?
LF: I have a big sweet tooth. One of my all-time favorite desserts is the chocolate tofu pie at Green Elephant. It’s absolutely freaking incredible!
AA: What are your go-to restaurants?
LF: Evo is in my top three. The chickpea fries and hummus are phenomenal. We’ve gone to a bunch of wine dinners there too. Kelly Nelson did an incredible job (selecting the wines). Also, Pai Men Miyake. When we first got together, we must have eaten there at least two times a week because we had to have the daikon carrot salad, Brussels sprouts, and tofu buns.
AA: Where do you go for takeout?
LF: Sushi is our weekly treat. We live in Scarborough now and there’s an amazing place on Route 1 called Kirin.
BG: Takeout is hard! A lot of food is meant to be experienced at a restaurant, but sushi is always good. Kirin’s tuna tataki is incredible. It’s seared, smoky, and spicy. It feels decadent for Scarborough. Also, the ratio of fish to rice is perfect. You don’t want too much of either.
LF: If we’re in Portland, we’re going to Mr. Tuna. Jordan Rubin is so talented. I’ve honestly contemplated asking him if I can see how he butchers fish just to hone my own skills.
AA: Where have you had an exceptional dining experience?
BG: We love David’s Opus Ten. They do an incredible job with small bites and pairings. That’s how I love to dine; a long meal, lots of bites, and lots of wine. We went there the day we got engaged.
LF: And Back Bay Grill! We did our baby’s gender reveal there. Larry Matthews is the salt of the earth. He is a very warm and genuine person. I always get the foie gras. Bryna loves the salmon dish and their Caesar salad.
BG: Also, Drifter’s Wife was another one of our favorite special occasions spots.
AA: Why do you think Portland is such a great restaurant city?
BG: The amazing thing about Portland, and Maine in general, is that there is someone nailing every category of food or cuisine. For example, Krista Desjarlais makes an incredible bagel — and a number of other things.
LF: There are a lot of talented people here. And the camaraderie of chefs in this town surpasses anything I’ve ever known in my life and I’ve worked in kitchens all over the place.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
A few notes on the restaurants mentioned in this article: the Back Bay Grill is open for on site dining, Green Elephant, Evo Kitchen + Bar, Mr. Tuna, Kirin, and Pai Men Miyake are open for on site and takeout. David’s Opus Ten is closed indefinitely and Drifters Wife is no longer in business.
Previous editions of My Kitchen Their Table have featured Courtney Loreg, Chad Conley Atsuko Fujimoto, Matt Ginn, Jordan Rubin, Cara Stadler, Thomas Takashi Cooke, Ilma Lopez, Bowman Brown, Brian Catapang, and Kelly Nelson.
The My Kitchen Their Table series is brought to life through the talent and hard work of food writer Angela Andre, and the generous sponsorship by Evergreen Credit Union and The Boulos Company.