Erik Desjarlais, Evangeline, Portland, Maine, French, Classical Cooking, Rock and Roll French, Long Fellow Square, Nose to Tail, Offal, Crispy Calf Brain, Duck Testicles


Formerly Of Restaurant Evangeline - Portland, ME

Erik Desjarlais is a chef’s chef. He bows to the alter of the pig, celebrates the stomach lining and brain of a cow, and pays homage to the great chefs who have come before him. His cooking combines classic French techniques with seasonal local ingredients and has earned him national recognition. Throw in his respect for the written word - he named his restaurant after a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem; his appreciation of ink as art - he has about 8 tattoos; his love of music - he followed the Grateful Dead on tour; and you’ve got a dedicated, passionate chef whose cuisine has been dubbed “rock and roll French.”


Q & A

Q. You describe your cooking as “rock and roll French.” We’re not sure what that means, but it certainly intrigues us. Can you explain further?

A. I think I was quoted in a Boston Globe article… I was explaining that while most of the foundation is Classical, the end result is a little more Rock and Roll. It was kind of a silly comment, but it stuck.

Q. You and your wife (Krista Kern Desjarlais, Bresca Restaurants) own separate restaurants in Portland, is there any competition between the two of you?

A. I only exist in her shadow. No, really she’s an amazing cook, and I find that we have different styles completely. There is just a certain sort of something that she does to her food, but I can’t put my finger on it. Call it magic, call it fairy dust. I have yet to achieve that level of cooking. She has an amazing hand when it comes to seasoning, and finesse is her middle name. Blending masculine and feminine, she can cook like her Estonian mom, mixed with the playfulness of Pierre Gagnaire, and move faster than any twenty-something line cook out there. She serves an amazing Uni and pasta dish that almost trembles from the refinement and delicacy… and she serves a giant mahogany pigs trotter, stuffed with foie gras and garnished with pork belly. I’m dumbfounded every time she cooks for us.

While the pie in Portland isn’t huge and we both need to do a certain level of business, there isn’t any competition between us. Portland is saturated with amazing restaurants. Our friend Josh Potocki is chef and owner of a great café called One Fifty Ate (158 Pickett St). Something he said last September sums it up: “I wouldn’t call it a competition, I’d call it a collective.” 

(Plus, we’re a dual income household).

Q. Congratulations, fatherhood is in your near future. Will you encourage your own child to go into the restaurant business?

A. She’s getting a tennis racket, golf club or guitar as soon as she can walk. If all else fails, maybe curling?

Q. Crispy calf’s brain fritters is one of your menu items, do you find that diners are getting more adventurous about eating the offal bits?

A. Indeed. I have been selling calf’s brains in Portland since 2003, and have sold more than I thought I would. Once people think of the whole animal as edible and delicious, it is pretty easy. Then they keep coming back for more. 

Q. Was there ever a disaster item on your menu that just didn’t fly and why?

A. I wouldn’t call anything a disaster, but bacon wrapped “Rognon Blanc” wasn’t well received in 2005. Give them a fancy name and wrap them in bacon, but they are still duck testicles.

Q. What is your least favorite new culinary trend and why? 

A. I dislike the fact that there are culinary trends. Food is food. I don’t think food is fashion. Fashion goes out of style, food shouldn’t. Nose to Tail cooking is not a trend. It has been going on for centuries. But since it is now mainstream to eat offal, it is a trend. I guess I'm thankful that it has become mainstream because I love to cook with offal. In 2003, very few would even consider eating pig tails, head cheese, blood sausage, tongue or brain. Or even pork belly! I was scoffed at for having them on my menu. People would come storming in to my restaurant screaming at me for having offal and extremities, saying “Who would eat brains????” My only answer was, “Well, probably your great grandmother.”

Of course, once I was identified observing a PETA anti Foie Gras rally in Portland, and they surrounded me and called me "Hitler" and a "Baby Killer."  The funny part, was that they were all wearing leather shoes and handbags.

Q. What are the least “chefy” and most “chefy” things you like to eat and why?

A. The folks at Browne Trading Company invited me down to the office to taste some amazing Galilee Osetra Caviar. We all ate it by the tablespoon. Numerous tablespoons. Ate almost a quarter pound.

The folks at Wendy's did a horrible thing and put a sandwich called "The Baconator" on their menu. I simply had to try it.

What we have to ask ourselves is, "Which one is more "chefy?"  I don't know.

Q. “Foodie” has become a mainstream term. Thoughts on this tag?

A. I love the fact that the public is more savvy than in the past about food culture. When a guest asks about sourcing, technique, theory or my opinion on this or that, I know that they actually care about what we do every day. So I know that what I’m putting on the plate or in a glass isn’t being lost in translation. I know that they are eating well at home. I know that they are supporting the local farms. I know their kids aren’t eating twinkies and Ho-Ho’s. Their dog is probably eating better than me.

But the word itself. My gosh. I just can’t stand it. I love everything related to eating and drinking, especially when I’m the one eating and drinking. But I would never call myself a foodie, nor would I refer to anyone I know as a foodie. Like nails on a chalkboard. Gastronome, gourmand, whatever. A gourmand is nothing more than a glutton in a tuxedo. Can’t we just enjoy and celebrate the lifestyle without attaching an annoying buzzword?

Q. What is it like to move a 350 pound animal from car to kitchen?

A. Remember the scene in Goodfellas where Jimmy, Henry, and Tommy have to roll the body of Billy Batts in a rug? Then drag him to the car? Same thing, but worse.

Three of us dragged her in, and had to quarter her on a tarp on the floor because we couldn’t lift her to the work table.

Q. We’ve always been told that the mark of a good restaurant is the ability to do chicken right, what is your opinion on that?

A. I agree completely. A good chicken, in my opinion, needs little “artistic conceit” to be good. Less is more. The fewer components of a simple roast chicken, the better. The misconception that a lot of diners have is that the chicken dish at a restaurant will be boring. You get the right bird, preferably clabber fed, and just roast it. There is plenty of room to mess with it, which means there is more room to screw it up.

People believe that chicken meat is bland, so they think they have to dress it up. In actuality, it is the perfect bird to roast whole because it essentially has the ability to baste itself. Dry the skin, truss it and roast it until it is done. If raised and harvested properly, it is nearly impossible to dry it out. Properly harvested chickens don't get plunged in ice water like even most of the "ethically acceptable" brands we see at our local butchery. It should be inherently moist. Even when we have a surplus of chicken wings, my sous chef frenches them in to little lollypops and fries them, never mind making stock! Delicious. Aside from Mitch’s chicken wings  and the roast chicken I eat at home, the best chicken dish I have ever had was at La Cote d’Or. Steamed with truffles. (RIP Chef Bernard).

Q. Favorite off the beaten track places to eat, that you’d be excited to take an adventurous eater, and why?

Au Pied de Cochon -- why? Two words: Martin Picard. And little jars of mayonnaise with everything. And foie gras stuffed trotter. And pickled tongue. And Bison tartare. 

Q. As a chef, you have long hours and late nights, any favorite late night places to dine?

A. A friend of mine, Big Jay Loring, just opened a place called Nosh Kitchen Bar with his business partner Matt Moran. They serve late, and it is geared to cooks and people who like delicious things. Pork belly reuben, bacon dusted frites, blood sausage poutine, and a whole lot of cured meats. A ton of great beers on tap too.

Q. As a chef, you get the opportunity to travel around the world, please share some of your favorite restaurants (other than your restaurants or home) and why?

A. Krista and I proposed to each other over a bowl of tripe at Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal, and celebrated the engagement at Les Trois Petits Bouchons. For my 32nd birthday, we dined at Per Se, which was amazing. After we chatted with the Maitre d, he took our menus away and printed up new ones. They put a similar tripe dish on the new menu, just for us. I know I have mentioned the tripe at APDC before, and it has been documented online. Did they search for us on the internet for some inside info? And put that dish on because of it? Or was it just coincidence? I'll never know. THAT is service. I was completely blown away. Chef Benno dined at Evangeline later that summer, which was really important to me.

Dining solo at La Cote d’Or was a highlight as well. Chef Loiseau was a master. I dined there a few months before he took his life, and unfortunately I was kind of lost after that happened. I looked up to him like a living god.

Q. You lived in Key West, any favorites places to drink, eat, share a Key Lime Pie?

A. I don’t really dig on the Key Lime Pie too much. When I lived there I made about a thousand of them. But The Green Parrot was always the after work watering hole!

City Guide

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Details of Erik Desjarlais’ recommendations on where to eat in Portland, ME, Montreal, and Paris.



- Crispy Calf Brain Fritters

- Simple Roast Leg of Lamb “Lulu Peyraud”

- Recipes Using La Quercia



[Closed as of November 2010]

Portland, Maine


190 State Street

Portland, Maine 04101 (view map)

T: 207.791.2800

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