By Sarah KutaApril 25, 2020 12:00AMETHER, Maine — It was the summer of 2018, and Maggie Greene, a 29-year-old former waitress at a diner in suburban Portland, Maine, was getting ready to take on a new challenge.
For the past three years, Greene had been traveling the world to attend the annual European leg of the American Taste of Europe festival, a trip that included stops in cities such as Brussels, Berlin and Milan, where she was part of the Taste of France panel, a group of chefs who have been tasked with creating new dishes at each festival.
Greene had a taste for French cuisine when she began attending festivals in 2009, and she decided to take a chance by making her first culinary foray into the United States.
She made her debut at the festival in 2010, and in 2011, Greene was the first person to enter the coveted Taste of the Americas.
Her culinary journey began when she landed in the United Kingdom in 2017, and Greene, who was in the process of getting her Masters in culinary education, had the perfect opportunity to make her mark.
Greene was asked to serve as a mentor to a budding chef named Matthew Latham, who has been cooking at the New York restaurant Mango’s since 2010.
Latham had only just started as a chef and was trying to carve out a niche in the restaurant industry when Greene offered her advice.
“I said, ‘This is your chance to get some food, and I want you to give me a little bit of the best that you can, but I also want to make sure that you do it in a respectful manner, because I’m not doing this for you,'” Greene recalls.
She continued to mentor Latham through the rest of his career, and by 2018, Latham was an international star, having earned accolades for his work at the World Cup of 2018 in France and a chef at Michelin-starred restaurants in France, Spain and Italy.
“He’s been amazing,” Greene says.
But then, the summer before her trip, Lavalas first taste of America ended in a tragic accident.
Lavalase had just finished his stint at the Michelin restaurant Aunty in New York City and was preparing to depart for a trip to Europe, but a car crash in Florida left him with a traumatic brain injury.
Lautas brain was still functioning when he was found, but the damage was so severe that he was not able to walk for three months.
He spent his first two weeks at home recovering from the injuries, and after three months of being home with his wife and two children, Lautase died.
His wife, Mandy Greene, lost a cousin, a friend and a great aunt.
The loss left Mandy with a profound sense of loss, which is something she has struggled with throughout her career, Greene says, and which she struggled to come to terms with as she continued to work on her Master’s thesis at the time.
“She was so busy trying to get to France that she didn’t really have time to focus on anything else,” Greene explains.
“That was a very difficult thing to come from her.
It’s a very hard thing to look at in any way.”
Since her death, Greene has been working with Latham to continue her Master of Fine Arts thesis in the culinary field, but this year, her goal was to take her skills to the United State.
“I had a really hard time thinking about what to do next, because it was all about me and how I was going to keep going,” Greene tells HuffPost Taste.
“So I started to think about the future, and it just sort of happened.
I realized that what I had been doing, I was doing because I had to do it.
It was an idea that I was building around and not trying to put it into the project, and that was something I really struggled with.
I was like, ‘I can’t just leave it up to fate.’
It’s just not going to work.”
Greene is currently working on a Masters thesis on French cuisine at the University of Southern California.
She’s also on a fellowship at the culinary school in Los Angeles, which she hopes to complete next year.
“It’s an honor to have a fellowship in a great place, but there are some other things that I need to focus more on, like, learning more about food and cooking,” Greene told HuffPost Taste during a phone interview.
She plans to attend a course at the Culinary Institute of America this fall, and will also be visiting the Culina Institute of California this summer to learn more about the food and culture of California.
“It’s a great opportunity to go somewhere where there’s a lot of culinary diversity, but where there is still a great deal of culinary excellence,” Greene said.
“And I think that’s where I’m at right now.”
In addition to her Master in Fine Arts