Krista Kern, Portland, ME, Maine, Pastry Chef, Where to eat in Portland, ME, Where does a pastry chef go to eat, Pastry Chef Recommendations, New York, Purveyors, Maine, Paris, France, Pastry, Patisseries, Montreal, Canada



Q. What is your favorite thing to eat on your own menu?

A. Currently, it is the spaghetti with veal and ricotta meatballs, pomodoro sauce, basil and shaved parmesan. But a regular favorite bite is the chorizo and gorgonzola stuffed date with piment d’espelette.

Q. What’s it like to cook for a small restaurant, after working in such large scale dining restaurants, like Gotham, Le Cirque, and Caesars Palace?

A. I had my best cooking experience working in the late 80’s and early 90’s in a small private guesthouse, where we served 2 - 40 people breakfast, lunch and dinner. We made everything from scratch and the chef was very into ‘farm to table’ long before it became fashionable. She also used local foragers, hunters and livestock farms. My second day working with her, I was handed an unassuming green trash bag in which were 10 freshly slaughtered rabbits. I was to break them down and prepare them for a fricassee we would serve that evening. I trained under her first as a dishwasher and steward and after a few more months was allowed to take part in the kitchen as a cook.

I left for a brief time to work as a line cook in a much bigger kitchen doing 250 covers a night. I then went to NYC and trained more in pastry arts and interned at Gotham, where you saw how a large team could perfect service for highly manipulated but delicious cooking. I returned to Maine after receiving a call from this particular chef asking if I would return as her Sous Chef and Pastry Chef. There were only the two of us and a dishwasher/prep person. I returned and made the promise to myself that one day I would create a kitchen and balance for my cooking similar to the guesthouse.

Many years and larger and larger kitchens followed. Caesars was the final training ground for me to open my own place. I figured if I could run two large scale (250 seats/450 covers average) Italian restaurants there as Chef and Pastry Chef, then I would be ready for my own business. That said, Bresca is 18 seats, with myself and a sous chef and no dishwasher. We have a front server and a back wait. Four women, who on a normal night serve 36 guests with 4-5 courses each.

Q. How does your background in pastry influence your present menu?

A. My pastry background drives my penchant for complex flavor building and textural punctuations in each dish. Pastry can manipulate texture, temperature and flavor in a way that so much can happen in just one bite.

Q. Do you still have a favorite pastry to make?

A. I love to make old school French pastries the most. Pithivier, Gateau Saint Honore, Opera cake, etc. I currently make more ‘modern’ restaurant style pastries, but a Financier is always on the menu.

Q. Do you have any tips for the home pastry cook?

A. Yes… measure very carefully! It is the biggest mistake home bakers make and in professional pastry you can spot a mis-scaled product very easily. Pastry is about precision and consistency and if home pastry cooks can have a great scale it would be the best investment they can make.

Q. In what way is Portland living up to its nickname - America's Foodiest Small Town?

A. We have a lot of very passionate cooks here who want to use as much local product as possible. But I think this is true for much of the country currently. It is true that we have a lot of restaurants per the number of people actually living here full time and I believe the current wave comes from the past few years of favorable press Portland has received for its chefs.

Sam Hayward, Rob Evans, Steve Corry all have won national awards, and Erik Desjarlais (my husband) has been recognized as the chef and owner of one of America’s great French restaurants.

Portland has been obsessed with food for decades and now that the national spotlight has been shown on us, we are saturating the market. I feel it has reached a peak with the number of self-proclaimed critics chiming in on local blogs on a daily basis, that there needs to be an evolution for dining here. It has long been a similar formula for restaurants here and the emergence of tasting menus and fixed price has been slow to say the least. But I hope with the surge of new diners from ‘away’ that chefs here will be able to break the mold for the standard a la carte menu and develop interesting concepts and menus that the dining public (local and travelers alike) will embrace consistently enough to provide financial sustainability for the restaurants who choose to structure themselves this way. 

I  have been part of Portland restaurants since the mid 80’s and have watched the wave of press come through a few times, but at the end of the day, Portland is seasonal and there is still a strong Yankee presence that demands quantity and value for their money. “Fancy is scary or for special occasions only. Small portions are frowned upon.”

As a chef here I try to maneuver through these thoughts as well as I can, providing a fine dining experience without upsetting the delicate balance of needing local business but trying to appeal to the few ‘foodies’ who reside here as well as those who travel from afar to dine with us.

Q. How does your proximity to the coast inspire your menu?

Cod, Uni, Peekytoe Crab, I use all the time. The Uni Spaghetti currently has been one of my most popular pastas. It is so simple and the uni coming from north of here is beautiful.

Q. Do you have a favorite food market anywhere in the world and what do you love about it?

The market I went to everyday in Paris is my favorite, it was not huge but had most everything you would need to put together a beautiful meal. Cheese, meats, charcuterie, vegetables, pastry, bread, wine. I was there for the summer months so the produce was gorgeous!

Q. What would you recommend for food-focused travelers to do when they visit Portland?

A. I would say visit the farmers markets on Wednesday and Saturday for sure.

Eat lunch at 158 Pickett Street in South Portland, and then dine at any of the many great restaurants here in Portland.

Also visit Rabelais Bookstore which focuses on food and wine books only!

Q. What are the elements that make you say “that was a great night” in the restaurant business?

A great night is when the total ‘vibe’ is present. The guests, music and the flow of the kitchen are in synch. My sous chef and I will put out as many as 160 plates in one night and if the dining room feels relaxed and chatty and the orders are coming in smoothly, then we can execute at a steady pace. What could feel overwhelming for just two cooks, becomes a positive flow of energy….i.e., a great night.  (A little new agey perhaps, but I have expedited for as many as 750 covers in a night and the rhythm is key for me to perfect food and the timing of tables turning.

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

A. Least ‘chefy’- Strawberry Twizzlers. Not a major food group either, but I love them and can consume a bag in one sitting!

Most ‘chefy’- cheese, because we have access to so many beautiful cheeses and if I am going to die from a clogged artery some day I will take the chef’s heart attack fast track trifecta of ‘foie gras, cheese and marrow’.

Q. What is your least favorite new culinary trend?

A. Least favorite new culinary trend… is culinary trends. I understand that trends have a place for momentum and marketing but as for the kitchen, I fell in love with this profession with an eye to the past not the future and cooking for one another is the most basic and honest of crafts out there. Trends have a way of fueling the desire of many to follow and then it all becomes too similar for me at least.

Dining in LA can be like dining in NYC if the chefs have followed the same trends. I like differences and not seeing the same ingredients on everyone’s menus. Also this thing with celebrity and self-made celebrity vanity chefs. The ones with a personal website removing themselves from a restaurant identity and making them the ‘face’ (albeit usually unshaven, pierced and tattooed) of their food. I think it’s ridiculous. Back in the day of the late 80’s and early 90’s, the ones in the kitchen with tattoos were usually ex cons… and the chef told the young guys that each day they need to be freshly shaved, clean hair and nails (no, jewelry was not a consideration). For women- no jewelry, no perfume, clipped nails. Nowadays you have men and women with piercings in a kitchen, and hooks and chains.

I wait for the awful moment when someone gets dragged into a Hobart mixer because their body piercings were so extravagantly hip... not so pretty then. I sound like a curmudgeon, but I think that the history and pride of working up the brigade over time has been lost and the trends that surf through the kitchens, via mass media exposure, (molecular being one) get so watered down that the original concept gets lost.

In 1998 I read Albert Adria’s Los Postres de El Bulli, cover to cover, and I thought it was amazing! Years later, as El Bulli gained attention and the changes happened with equipment becoming available to all, it seemed to morph from a new way of thinking about food to a trend. Now you find sphered this and that all over the place. For me it made sense for those at El Bulli because they had developed it as a style of their own, it was singular at that moment in time, and those who were exposed in Spain followed suit to expand the style.

Trends seem to be cultivated and motivated by publicity. Media drives trends, amazing chefs create new styles and ways to perceive food.

Q. Do you have a go-to knife, gadget or ingredient that you would advise a home cook to stock?

A. I have a 3 1/2 inch serrated utility knife, which I love.

Q. Who else (in your field) is doing interesting things and deserves more praise and why? 

A. Pierre Gagnaire. He gets press and praise, but I think he is a genius. He should never be forgotten for the vision he brings to this field.

Q. Who are the purveyors that inspire your creativity, what products, and why?

A. Sparrow Arc Farm, whom we use for the entire growing season. Matt Linehan is an amazing farmer and his produce is so beautiful that when he shows up at Bresca’s back door, I am always in awe with what is available.

We use Browne Trading Co.  as well… always pristine seafood!

Harris Farm for veal, heavy cream and milk… amazingly fresh and the veal is so delicious.

Eggs from a woman in Cape Elizabeth who supplies us with hen, bantam, pullet and duck eggs.


Q. For killer food, but won’t break the bank:

A. 158 Pickett Street South Portland, Maine They just do it right.

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Q. Classic Maine food?

A. Bean Supper, at a Church.

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Q. Seafood?

A. Lobster roll and fried clams at Two Lights, Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

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Q. Restaurants with outstanding pastry?

A. Guy Savoy, Paris; Pierre Gagnaire, Paris.

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Q. Patisseries anywhere in the world?

A. In Paris: Pierre Herme, Laduree, Sadaharu Aoki.

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Q. Las Vegas?

A. Marche Bacchus, Bistro and Wine shop. Super relaxed location off the strip and great wine to choose from in the shop to go with bistro classics.

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Q. New York?

A. Per Se - I dined with Erik for his birthday. It was perfect.

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Q. France?

A. La Madonnina, Paris. Small Italian Restaurant. Uncomplicated, fresh and authentic Italian food was a welcome change after three consecutive 3 star meals at Guy Savoy, Pierre Gagnaire and Joel Robechon (la table and l’atelier). All these were amazing but sitting for a meal alone in the early evening sun with a short glass of  wine and the light, fresh flavor of pasta and summer vegetables with shaved parmesan and good olive oil was good for my soul.

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Q. Rome?

A. I ate a small family owned restaurant off the Pantheon square. Can’t recall the name, but the meal was wonderful and authentic.

Q. Montreal?

A. Restaurant Au Pied De Cochon… unbelievably decadent fat fest… and best of all it is where Erik and I became engaged and retuned to one year later on our honeymoon.

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111 Middle Street

Portland, ME 04101 (view map)

T: 207.772.1004  (make a reservation)



Tue - Sat: 5:30pm - 9pm


Details of Krista Kern Desjarlais’ recommendations on where to eat in Portland, ME, Montreal, New York, and Paris.





Browne Trading Company


Krista Kern Desjarlais’ recommendations on where to eat in Portland, ME, Montreal, New York, and Paris.