Three young turks from Jamaica Plain recently launched a pop-up restaurant. Philip V. Kruta, 22, Jeremy Kean, 25, and Corey Isgur, 23, opened Whisk, a chef’s tasting experience at Fiore’s Bakery, based on the premise that quality meals can be accessible and affordable. So far, seatings have sold out.
“Whisk is a place for you if you’re a foodie and can’t afford to spend a lot of money on fine dining,” says Kean. The pop-up was launched with the help of bakery owner Charles Fiore, Kruta’s former employer. Kruta’s talent, says Fiore, elevated the bakery “quite a few notches,” with new pastries and a line of vegan goods. “I’ve known for years that Philip wanted to open a restaurant,” says the baker. “When the time came, I had a little extra cash and space available.” He charged the young chefs a modest rent, a savings they passed on to customers.
Chefs who cook in pop-ups are like traveling minstrels. They work in nontraditional spaces, promote their events via social media, and arrive with their all own equipment, from induction burners to plates. Whisk began with a seven-course tasting menu for $45 per person. “This is about finding our own path,” says Isgur. Adds Kruta, “We’ve all seen triple digits on our time cards.” Kean finishes: “If we’re going to sacrifice other aspects of our life, we’d like to do it for ourselves.”
Isgur describes the food they serve as European classical married with avant-garde techniques. “A huge part of our food experience is we want people to engage with it, not just eat it because they’re hungry,” says Kruta.
The Whisk chefs are no neophytes. Their combined resumes include L’Espalier, Eastern Standard, Rialto, Garden at the Cellar, No. 9 Park. They say their varied talents make them one “super chef.”
One local restaurateur wonders if a pop-up commands loyalty from diners. “You can have a pop-up and it’s great for a month when everyone is curious and wants to try it, but will those people be back?” asks Lisa Sewall, chef and co-owner of Lineage in Brookline.
Michael Leviton, chef and owner of Lumiere in Newton and Area Four in Cambridge loves the enthusiasm that a pop-up generates, but thinks young chefs need plenty of time in seasoned kitchens before they go out on their own. “If you really want something to say, and to cook a notch above,” he says, “you need to see more. How much can you taste at 22 or 23?”
The trio is undeterred by such comments. From February through April, Whisk had two seatings, 40 diners at each, Thursdays through Saturdays. Portions are small and each dish is plated with precision. One March menu included a pork belly slice with a baby carrot paired with a carrot puree topped with crispy strings of pork, all drizzled with pork jus. A spring salad was dressed with a cantaloupe-walnut dressing. Other past dishes include sea bass with pistachio cream, cipollini onions and bacon, and a ginger mouse with white chocolate soil paired with honeydew sorbet and honey tangerine gel.
Whisk’s success at Fiore Bakery exceeded expectations. A Gilt City two-for-one coupon last winter attracted customers from Brookline and Cambridge. Culinary school interns volunteered to assist with service, bringing the staff to 10.
The pop-up did draw repeat customers. Local resident Maria Grigoriadis returned frequently because she enjoys the food and presentation. “It’s like a mystery. What will Jeremy [Kean] make? What will the desserts be?” she writes in an e-mail. “It’s so exciting to have plates come out of the kitchen and not know.”
Kruta, Kean, and Isgur are fully committed to their venture. They rise early and work past midnight, handling all aspects of the enterprise: reservations, e-mails, shopping, prepping, and cooking. “We are putting in everything it takes to run this business,” Kruta says.
The trio thinks their future is in Jamaica Plain, in a brick-and-mortar restaurant where they can also offer job training. “We have a lot of ideas and ambition,” says Kruta.
That’s something restaurateur Leviton remembers about his younger self. “They’re going to learn something very important from this,” he says. “In some ways, I’m jealous of the opportunity to take chances at that age.”
The next pop-up will be at Fazenda Cafe, 3710 Washington St., Jamaica Plain on May 19. A 10-course menu is $65 per person, $20 extra for beer and wine pairings. For more information, go to www.whisk
Peggy Hernandez can be reached at mphernan1