Chef Jeremy Kean Talks Life After Wink & Nod

Whisk's first brick & mortar will be like 'if Ribelle and Alden & Harlow had a baby.'


Chefs Jeremy Kean (left) and Philip Kruta of Whisk. Photo by Boston Nightlife Ventures

As Bostinno reported yesterday, former Beacon Hill Bistro executive chef, Josh Lewin, and his Bread & Salt Hospitality partner, Katrina Jazayeri, will soon be taking over the kitchen at Wink & Nod. Whisk founder and current Wink & Nod chef Jeremy Kean, says the new pop-up incubator concept, which will swap chefs every six months, was an amicable solution reached between the two parties.

“It’s not a bad blood thing,” Kean says. “But we’re interested in opening our own restaurant and we didn’t necessarily want to be here for another three years. This isn’t our concept. We love what they’re doing here and it has been an incredible learning experience, but we want to move on. Through talking, we hatched out the idea of introducing a new pop-up chef every six months, which I think is genius on their part. They might wake up in the morning and see the world in a completely different way than Philip and myself, but as soon as we said ‘listen, we want to move on,’ they were really cool about it.”

Lewin and his Bread & Salt concept officially move into the kitchen on September 1, after which Kean and his partner Philip Kruta will go on a brief hiatus. The two will first go on a cross country culinary expedition, popping up at random “upscale comfort restaurants” in Tennessee, Louisiana, and the Carolinas before heading to Tokyo, Shanghai, and Ho Chi Minh City for research on their next project.

Kean says that several investors have already lined up to support Whisk’s first brick and mortar, which they’re hoping to open by mid-October somewhere in Cambridge or Jamaica Plain.

“We’re at a point now where we’ve just been popping up for three years and we’ve built a lot doing it,” Kean says. “We’ve trained a lot of students and we’re proud of our training program. We’ve decided to put down some roots and have a more permanent home base. With the right team, maybe we go to Cape Cod during the summer or Killington, Vermont during the winter and do a pop-up restaurant while the restaurant in Boston continues to run. For now we want to open a really honest American-style restaurant and people lined up for it. Right now, we can put together three-quarters of a million dollars to open our own place. That’s a reality. That exists.”

One key selling point for investors  is Whisk’s continued dedication to their rehabilitation program, which was inspired by Kean’s own experience inside the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. “People really believe in our cause and the underbelly of what we do, which is to guide people to a better life through cooking. I’ve cooked for so long in so many restaurants and no matter how good and interesting the food is, there was always something missing. Through taking students and watching them grow— chefs that might not have had an opportunity otherwise—that void has been filled. It incorporates something that gives Phil and I personal fulfillment.”

Besides an à la carte section with “composed peasant food,” Whisk’s new space will also allow the duo to return to the locavore tasting menus they were known for prior to their partnership with Wink & Nod. Like many of today’s best chefs, Kean is particularly inspired by Noma’s René Redzepi, whom he’d like to channel via a full-time, dedicated forager.

“We’re really going to walk the local walk,” Kean says. “We’ve always wanted to do a tasting menu, but at Wink & Nod it was never going to work. It’s dark, there’s a huge drinking crowd, and we didn’t want to put the work into it because we didn’t totally believe in it there. We had a a lot of fun doing the à la carte menu, but on our own menu, we would not put potato skins with aioli. Getting our own place opens up a lot more opportunities to sell dishes you don’t necessarily get rich on, but they’re really cool and makes people want to come back. I hate to compare it to another restaurant, but I can see the concept being more along the lines of Noma. Or to compare it to something in Boston, it’ll be like if Ribelle and Alden & Harlow had a baby.”