Chef Ciana Godin opened Alice & Lulu’s restaurant in Carrabassett Valley with her wife in 2018 after an unexpected move to Maine. She’s a recent member of the Maine Cheese Guild and happily offered menu recommendations for after a cold day on the slopes, cheese included.

Ciana Godin Submitted photo

Name: Ciana Godin

Age: 34

Lives: Kingfield

How did your career in the kitchen start? I suppose it all really started with my mother. We cooked together all the time when I was a kid, and as I got a little older and honed my skills a little in high school, it became a thing that I would cook all these big breakfasts for my friends on the weekends. I let myself get talked out of culinary school early on, but soon after my college graduation the kitchen was again calling. Truthfully, at 23 (24?), I was much more ready for the challenges of the kitchen and culinary school than when I was 18, so it’s probably better that it happened that way.

My first step into a professional kitchen was at the Boston Quincy Marriott. A friend of a friend was the sous chef there and was willing to give me a try. That was June of 2011. I concurrently enrolled at Johnson & Wales University’s Providence campus, to their associate of culinary arts program. I stayed with Marriott Corporation for almost two years, including a six-month stint at the Renaissance St. Pancras Hotel in King’s Cross, London, UK. I worked with, for, and alongside chefs from all over the world: from South Africa, to Brazil, India, Spain and Ireland. We worked harder than any crew I had ever known and also treated each other with the most respect, all the while having the most fun. We fed banquets as small as 10 people, all the way up to 1,000 people at once spread across three ballrooms. Talk about learning in the line of fire!

When I returned to Boston, I spent a few more months at the Marriott and moved on to a small restaurant, Hungry Mother, to get the feel for that side of the industry. While it was an honor to work for Chef Barry, and the food was compelling to me, at some point I couldn’t afford to work for minimum wage anymore, and had to move on. I landed at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Copley Square, Boston.

My time at the Fairmont ended when my fiancée Laura (now wife) lost her patience with winter in the city. We made the move to Los Angeles in November of 2015, and the bulk of my time in California was spent in the kitchen of Tavern LA (one of two-time James Beard award-winner Suzanne Goin’s restaurants), where I worked my way up to become one of the sous chefs. I learned a lot there, including the true value of beautiful, fresh produce and local meats, and that high-volume wasn’t where I wanted to be. We returned to the East Coast in the fall of 2017 to get married and made the decision that we would leave LA – it seems neither of us is really cut out for that particular brand of city life.

You’re a big believer in families sitting down to eat together? Well, I suppose that this too began with my family. We sat at the dinner table together every night, no matter what. Some nights we argued, some nights we laughed, some nights we cried and some nights were relatively quiet. I knew Tuesdays were for pasta, and Fridays meant leftovers or takeout, and always, always, that my family would be there. There was a certain comfort in that rhythm, of knowing that there was always a hot plate of something, and a comforting or encouraging word. I also honed my debate skills at that table, arguing with a brother 10 years older and more knowledgeable than I was, learning to win gracefully and lose graciously. I heard stories both new and old from my parents and learned lessons before my time when my brother was in trouble.

That half-hour each day shaped me at my core and I hope my kids have the same experience.

What brought you to Maine and Alice & Lulu’s? The original draw to Maine was my family camp in New Vineyard. My mom and dad bought a little fishing shack on Porter Lake in 1989 that was no more than two rooms with a refrigerator, a stove and a propane “Destroilet” on stilts. In the present day, it is a three-level home that is four-seasons livable, but it took a while to get there. Our little family unit spent the bulk of our summers there once my Dad retired from the Marine Corps in 1994, the endless summer weeks punctuated with visits from friends and family.

I don’t think either of us really expected when we came to my family’s camp for our honeymoon that we would end up staying in Maine. We spent two blissful weeks there reading and swimming and doing a lot of nothing. After that I applied to work on the trail crew at Sugarloaf to fill my time while Laura returned to LA and finished her contract there, and instead got offered the sous chef position at 45 North. When Laura returned, she fell madly in love with skiing to her new position at Bullwinkle’s every morning, not to mention everything else about Maine in the winter. Within the first ski season here, I was promoted to become the executive chef of 45 North and we decided to stay longer-term.

As that winter wound down, it became increasingly clear that my ideals as a chef did not line up with what Boyne wanted out of 45 North, and so Laura and I began exploring possibilities for opening our own restaurant here in Maine. We opened the doors to Alice & Lulu’s the following Oct. 3, just in time for homecoming, and the rest is now, as they say, history.

How did you get involved with the Maine Cheese Guild? Up until recently, I was sort of just a fan of the guild. We go to the Maine Cheese Festival every year to do research (a.k.a. eat a load of cheese and try new things!), and I buy a ton of Maine cheese for the restaurant. We believe in using as much local product as possible at A&L, with a particular emphasis on local cheese and charcuterie. So, I have a collection of guild T-shirts, but wasn’t really involved in advancing Maine cheese.

In our first couple of years here at A&L, we have done several interviews and have been featured on “This Maine Life.” Through that show, we met Vanessa Santorelli of My Maine Concierge. Vanessa puts together these big, beautiful dinner parties at Maine restaurants as networking opportunities for chefs, restaurateurs and hoteliers. We were finally able to attend a very socially distant version of one of these dinners in the late summer of 2020, where Laura and I were seated with Holly and Lyle Aker, two wonderfully enthusiastic, kind and funny restaurateurs with a shared love of great food, great wine and all things local (especially cheese!). They opened their restaurant, Broken Arrow, in Portland just after we met, and Holly was also (at the time) a member of the board for the Maine Cheese Guild. At her insistence, I was nominated to the board, and at the same meeting, she was made president.

It is my sincerest hope that as a new member of the board, and as the only chef on the board, that I will be able to help advance the growth of the Maine Cheese Guild and continue to support all of the wonderful cheesemakers right here in our own state.

A cheesy fun fact and/or a cheese readers ought to try: I don’t think I could pick just one cheese for you to try, because all of the Maine cheeses I work with are beautiful and delicious in their own way. I highly recommend that inquiring minds take a hop, skip and jump over to www.localgoodsgathered.com and order themselves a Victory Box, which will contain a great selection of Maine cheeses to try along with some other local goodies, and will directly benefit the Maine cheesemakers, all of whom are struggling mightily through this pandemic.

Any future plans for your restaurant? My continuing dream for Alice & Lulu’s is to be able to expand our current wine bar-cum-brasserie concept into a full-size bistro. Think steak frites over a wood grille, moules with grilled baguettes, crème brulee and, as ever, all the cheese, charcuterie and local treats!

Menu you’d recommend to cap off a long, cold day of skiing? Without a doubt, a big steaming bowl of boeuf bourguignon and a big hunk of rustic sourdough bread topped with some melted raclette cheese if I’m feeling bold! Hearty, country-style stews like bourguignon never fail to warm both my body and my soul.


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