Krista Kern Desjarlais has had a long and varied career, but there’s always been one constant – ice cream. From Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and Gotham Bar & Grill in New York, to Bresca, her own beloved and now shuttered restaurant in Portland, Maine, she’s churned out distinctive frozen desserts. “Ice cream has been a part of my culinary life since I was a young chef,” said Desjarlais. “I’ve always made it for myself and others.”
In the summer she runs Bresca & the Honeybee, an ice cream shack on Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester, an unusual venue for a two-time James Beard Award finalist and seven-time semi-finalist. Flavors are dreamed up from the depth of her experience and might include buttermilk panna cotta with blueberry compote and brown butter crumb or burnt honey with pear and rosemary. She’s well aware that these flavors are a stretch for some palates, but with kindness and confidence in her product, Desjarlais finds people can be persuaded to give them a go. There are plenty of kid-friendly favorites too, created with the help of her 11-year-old-daughter.
Desjarlais’ story goes back to 2016 when she opened The Purple House, a renovated and compact cottage in a Portland suburb with a wood-fired brick oven as its centerpiece. It was the right place and time to return to her roots as a pastry chef. Here she turned out wildly popular Montreal-style bagels, tender focaccia pizza and much more as people waited in a line that snaked out the door nearly every day.
Due to the pandemic, the bakery has been closed for the past two years, so after careful consideration Desjarlais turned her attention back to ice cream. She’s using the space as her home base and, surprisingly, still making good use of the oven in that endeavor, firing it up to roast fruit.
For a recent project, cherries, plums and raspberries were cooked with sugar and vanilla plus beer from Allagash Brewing Co., a Maine favorite. In February, Desjarlais created two special flavors for a Valentine’s pop-up using My One & Only, a red ale made from local fruit with caramel notes. The second offering was vegan, made with bittersweet chocolate, raspberry truffles and Allagash Heart of Hearts, a sour beer with raspberries and cranberries. The ice creams were such a hit, she’s continuing to develop more with Allagash.
Coming soon will be a spring version using From Maine, With Love – a beer made with Muscat grapes and fermented with champagne yeast. Desjarlais plans to use the oven-roasted fruit as a sorbet-like swirl in a cream base for “a Creamsicle type thing.”
There’s a lot more ice cream in the works. “It all hinges on production space right now,” says the chef, who’s hoping to expand beyond the tight quarters of The Purple House. She needs open space and a big walk-in freezer in order to scale up. Local, small grocers have been asking for product, and customers are clamoring for more. A small Bresca & the Honeybee scoop shop in Portland is a dream for Desjarlais and everyone who’s a had a taste of her cold creations.
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