Chefs

Krista Kern Desjarlais Focuses on Wood-Fired All-Day Baking at The Purple House

Gabriella Gershenson

Krista Kern Desjarlais is the chef/owner of The Purple House in North Yarmouth, Me., a bagel bakery/pizzeria/pastry café that’s open from October through June. In the summer, she relocates to Outlet Beach in the town of New Gloucester, where she runs a seasonal ice cream stand from July through September.

Can you describe your repertoire at The Purple House?

We specialize in Montréal-style bagels out of a wood-fired oven. Everything is done in the wood-fired oven. We put pastries through once the bagels are finished and the temperature starts to fall. Around 11:30 a.m., we get a whole different crew that rolls in for pizza and salad, and we do a roast in the oven as well.

Is The Purple House a restaurant or a bakery?

We’re definitely a hybrid, but I have a restaurant chef background and a pastry background. I was running my own restaurant in Portland called Bresca for seven years. It was James Beard-nominated, we got a lot of nice press and it was fine-dining dinner only. Before that, I worked in Las Vegas, New York City and Boston. For a number of years, I worked as a pastry chef in New York City and Paris, and throughout the Northeast.

You have such an eclectic collection of baked goods. Roman-style pizza, Montréal bagels, French pastries like kouign-amann and mille-feuille. How did you curate your selection?

My choices were based on years of baking on my own and enjoying traditional baking in the French and Italian styles. I staged at Le Cirque under Jacques Torres, which was amazing. I spent time in Rome; my grandfather lived there for 30 years and passed away there. I was hired to be the pastry chef for Guy Savoy in Las Vegas and went to Paris to transcribe the pastry program for them. I met other pastry chefs like Pierre Hermé and worked in their pastry kitchens, so I got to see how all of their stuff was made.

What made you decide to open The Purple House?

After Bresca closed, then after having my daughter, I was just tired. I closed that restaurant and bought the beach property. I did [Bresca & The Honey Bee] in the summer until I found the property that is The Purple House now. It’s 544 square feet, an old cottage that was a video store that I turned into a super-calm, super-cozy, mini-café bakery with a wood oven and a garden. 

What’s it like baking pastry in a wood-fired oven? 

Some things come out very similar to if I do it in a deck oven or a convection oven. Financiers and things like that don’t look particularly different. Things like galettes do better in live fire because you get really nice points—those wee bits of char and caramelization that give great flavor and you don’t achieve as well in a convection oven without overbaking the product.

What’s your favorite time of year for baking?

Fall is my favorite season; it has always been and probably is for a lot of bakers. I’m a sucker for apples, pumpkin, pear, cranberry. For a lot of practical reasons, too. The bakery and restaurant is much cooler, so you’re compelled to bake.

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