For 15 years, Kyra Alex served up farm-fresh lunches and dinners to thousands of locals, summer people and tourists alike from her restaurant, Lily’s Cafe, housed inside an 18th century house at the corner of Route 15 and the Airport Road in Stonington.
By the end of the summer of 2011, however, the hard work of running a restaurant had lost its luster. Alex was burned out. What started as a business, in which she hoped to eke out an existence in the island community she so loved, ended up taking her down the wrong path. She closed up shop and rebooted, and last year began offering cooking, sewing and interior design classes in the same place, now rechristened Lily’s House.
“I just needed to re-evaluate,” said Alex, who blogs about her experiences on her blog, Lily’s House, at lilyshousestonington.blogspot.com. “I’m reopening as a more centered person, and I’m able to celebrate my passions, which are sustainable and local foods.”
Alex is a self-taught chef who has learned everything she knows from her own experience — from cake baking to pickle making and from the correct way to poach an egg to the wrong way to make muffins. She was an early adopter of the local foods movement and has been sourcing ingredients from farmers markets since she first started in the late ’90s. The trial and error she has gone through over the years has only helped her be able to understand food and, in turn, be a good teacher to those just starting out.
“I think my naivete has really helped me be fearless,” Alex said. “I understand those basic things that I think are helpful for people who are learning how to cook.”
Alex already works with students in the Deer Isle-Stonington school district, teaching them the basic kitchen skills that have disappeared from middle and high school classrooms; she also serves as a mentor to island youth. Starting May 7, she’ll begin offering general interest “quick bite” classes at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays, in which participants can come in and learn how to make a specific dish, and then eat the results.
“There are so many wonderful cooking classes out there, but they can take up a whole morning or afternoon, and they can cost a lot of money,” she said. “These are only $25, and they’re about an hour, so you can learn something but not set aside a whole day for it.”
She can’t completely stay away from the restaurant world — she’ll be offering a once-weekly prix fixe, or fixed price, farmhouse lunch on Thursdays. But aside from food, she also offers classes on sewing, quilting and interior design, as her other big passion is design, whether it’s wearable or decorative.
“I taught myself how to sew, too,” said Alex. “I’m just an inherently curious person.”
She’s documenting everything on her blog and website, Lily’s House Stonington. All the teaching, the eating, the sourcing of food from farmers and purveyors throughout the region and creating an aesthetically pleasing space in which to do it has left her nearly as busy as she was with the restaurant. But this time, it’s completely on her own terms.
“It’s really been a wonderful experience so far,” she said. “I can move at my own pace, and still do all the things I love. I’m very lucky.”
Lily’s House is located at 450 Airport Road in Stonington. For more information, call 367-5936.