As Krista Kern Desjarlais described the reopening of The Purple House to me over the phone, I could hear how eager she was to return to her long-dormant wood-fired oven.

She has been understandably cautious about bringing back her North Yarmouth bakery/café during the ongoing pandemic, waiting until “I’m able to do it absolutely the right way.” For Desjarlais, a finalist this year for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Northeast award, that has meant anticipating the winter with equal parts pragmatism and imagination.

“We’ll be doing phone orders only, reduced staff, a table outside for contactless pickup, tables and chairs on the patio with a wood-burning fireplace if we’re lucky enough to have decent weather,” she said. Then, with a laugh, she added, “Even on a crisp, cold day, it will feel nice to have a cup of coffee and pretend you’re après-ski in Vail before you have to go to Hannaford in a mask and freak out.”

Call her a romantic realist, but Desjarlais is right: It will feel nice to have The Purple House back, no matter the circumstances.

Until this month, she has focused her attention on her summertime venture, Bresca & the Honeybee, a tiny snack bar at Outlet Beach on Sabbathday Lake. But the minute the chill returned to the air, Desjarlais started plotting how to get The Purple House’s hearth oven restoked.

For fans of her Montreal-style bagels, that’s welcome news. Well, mostly.

“We’re probably not going to go back to doing bagel sandwiches, at least not right away,” Desjarlais said. “But instead, we’ll do bialy: composed little packages of dough and fillings, all set to go. Just give them a bump in the oven and then they’re ready to go out the door.”

With reduced staff and the extra labor around hygiene and curbside drop-offs, the shift toward efficiency makes sense. But that’s not the only change afoot.

Osteoarthritis and lactose-intolerance have altered what Desjarlais herself is able to eat. “The cruelest injustice is that the summer after I first made ice cream at the lake, I found out I was lactose-intolerant,” she said. “I ate tacos with sour cream and cheese. That was the last time I ate dairy in a meal.”

“Now I have inflammation on my knee that gets aggravated by gluten, so I’m offering options that are more like what I want to eat,” she said. “We’ll do some more vegan and gluten-free items, but sneaking them in so you don’t realize they’re there. They’ll be more elegant than what you think of when you hear ‘vegan pastries.’ None of those weird textures or super-sweet flavors.”

But Desjarlais also swears that dairy and gluten are going nowhere at The Purple House. Indeed, when I asked her for an emblematic recipe from her restaurant, she sent along a crunchy, savory shaved Brussels sprout salad, a dish lavish with lactose from Pecorino Romano and parmesan cheeses.

In one form or another, Desjarlais has been serving this salad for 25 years. And yes, despite recent dietary concessions, she continues to sample every batch served at The Purple House.

It satisfies “my love of crunchy, salty, sweet and healthyish,” she said. “Not dairy-free, but that’s OK! I still taste a bit to make sure it’s balanced for service, and it’s a bullet I’m happy to take for a taste of one of my favorite dishes.”

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of three recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association. Contact him at: [email protected] Twitter: @AndrewRossME

 

Bresca Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad
Krista Kern Desjarlais in her own words: “This salad started as an addition to an antipasti plate at the tiny restaurant/cafe in New York City called Babou, where I was chef/pastry chef in 1994-95. It was just me working in an illegal basement space with hot plates (no induction in 1994-95 yet for us regular cooks), a convection oven one flight up behind the coffee service area and a home refrigerator.

“I needed a simple salad that was easy enough to prep and store without losing quality, and this was it. I put this on the menu at Bresca when it opened in 2007, and it has been at Bresca & the Honeybee as well as The Purple House as a mainstay.”

Serves 4-6

FOR THE SALAD BASE:

12 ounces raw Brussels sprouts (not frozen), trimmed and shaved on a mandoline to a thickness of about a quarter-inch (about 4 cups shaved sprouts)
¾ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
½ cup grated aged parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons coarsely snipped chives
2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably one made from Arbequina olives
Pinch sea salt, preferably Maldon
Aged Pecorino Romano cheese to finish dish, approximately ¼ cup shaved strips
Roasted Garlic Dressing

FOR THE ROASTED GARLIC DRESSING:

2 heads of garlic, roasted and squished out
½ cup cider vinegar
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2½ cups olive oil (a not-too-peppery variety)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper or Espelette pepper

Prepare the roasted garlic dressing by combining all the dressing ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and blitzing until the mixture is fully blended. While the processor is still running, drizzle in the olive oil to create an emulsified dressing. Taste it and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper. If the dressing needs more tang, add a bit more vinegar and pulse to combine.

To assemble the dish, combine all the salad ingredients except the Pecorino and the roasted garlic dressing in a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing on the salad and, using your hands, toss well and gently massage the dressing in, using only enough to make a flavorful bite. Taste frequently and adjust salt, pepper and the quantity of dressing.

Plate in a small mound and, to taste, shave three strips of Pecorino onto each plate, a little freshly cracked black pepper (or Espelette pepper, which is what we use exclusively for seasoning at The Purple House) and a drizzle of good olive oil over the top. Eat the salad immediately and enjoy!


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