Chef Barbara Boucher sets the table for a 5-course meal inside the Canterbury Royale's main dining room, Feb. 28, 2023. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — After creating a European-inspired culinary experience in rural northern Maine, two chefs have expanded the business to include a bed and breakfast.

Canterbury Royale and the cottage are the visions of Barbara Boucher and Renee O’Neill.

The longtime chefs created Canterbury Royale in 2008 on a country road in Fort Fairfield. The restaurant serves weekly five-course dinners to guests who often travel there from throughout Maine and Canada.

But the pandemic sparked a new plan. When COVID-19 forced them to close in 2020, they created the cottage, a place that transports overnight guests to Europe’s Victorian and Edwardian eras. Their goal: give people from near and far an experience they can’t get elsewhere in The County.

“When people come here, they come for the full experience: the music, food and customer service,” Boucher said.

The cottage opened for guests in March 2022, with Canterbury Royale’s main dining room reopening last summer. Boucher estimated that she and O’Neil have since served 50 to 60 people per month, including overnight guests.

Customers helped inspire the addition. Over the years, more and more guests suggested Canterbury Royale add a bed and breakfast to its repertoire.

So over a year and a half, Boucher and O’Neill transformed a once-empty structure into a cottage for guests just a walking path away from the main house.

They renovated the interior from scratch, from the floorboards to the yellow and white wallpaper. O’Neill crafted hand-painted wooden beams to hide the modern air-conditioning unit.

There are yellow-and-white-tiled floors, living room and kitchen chairs and a small stove and cabinet set. The adjacent bedroom features a wooden bed frame that O’Neill constructed and carved, as well as a small, hand-carved wooden storage chest with a winter village scene.

People often wonder why two serious chefs would put down roots in Fort Fairfield, of all places, Boucher said. But the chefs think the surrounding 15-acre forest, including their own planted evergreen trees, complements their vision.

“We wanted a cooler and quieter climate. The landscape and countryside are beautiful,” Boucher said. “I can’t tell you how many people have asked what we are doing in a former potato field.”

Boucher and O’Neill, natives of Connecticut and New York, respectively, spent their early careers training at culinary arts institutes on the East Coast. The pair, also musicians, met through music lessons.

After honing their craft since their early 20s, they decided to find the most remote place they could find to open their business. They wanted to bring their European flair where people otherwise would not experience culinary dining.

Entrees often include fanciful choices like encrusted lamb chops with red wine reduction or salmon Wellington with Pernod sauce.

Classical music drifts through the room as guests eat and drink from china plates and crystal glasses. Boucher and O’Neill cook and serve, traveling from the kitchen to the dining room, sometimes with as many as 30 plates total for larger groups.

“Cooking is all about math. You’re calculating when each dish will come as soon as the guests walk in the door,” Boucher said. “We pride ourselves on knowing what our guests want before they say it.”

Ingenuity and a passion for the finest experiences are what motivate the chefs to keep welcoming people back to their enchanted forest.

“People feel transported as soon as they pull into the driveway,” Boucher said.