I never met Franco Kisic’s twin brother Ivan. Franco and I first met while he was working for Albert Adria at Tickets in Barcelona and we became good friends over the course of several years. Franco was an important player in the development of the Nikkei concept restaurant that the Adria brothers were working on in late 2012. In fact, I remember one late night while we were hanging out at Tickets and Franco walked me down the street to see the location of the Pakta restaurant that was to open in the early 2013 but was delayed until summer. I dined at Pakta almost a year after the day that I first saw the proposed location, and it was definitely worth the wait.
It was no secret from my friends that I had wanted to visit Machu Picchu for years, and my young Peruvian friend Franco had always assured me that from the moment I landed in Lima his twin brother Ivan would take care of me. Ivan was an acclaimed Peruvian chef slated for stardom, not only in his own country but known all over the world. He had worked with Ferran Adria and at the time was also working with the Adria brothers on Pakta. Ivan had worked with and been friends, sometimes even roommates with chefs like Diego Munoz of Astrid y Gaston and Virgilio Martinez of Central in Lima.
A few weeks after our fateful conversation Ivan was tragically gone in a horrible car accident, along with four other rising culinary talents. It was devastating news since Ivan was close to opening his own restaurant in Lima, a dream that was left unfinished with his death. Franco, who loved his brother deeply, took the extreme decision of giving up his life in Spain and working alongside living legends Ferran and Albert Adria to move back to Peru and bring the unfinished project to completion. Our mutual friend Sebastian Mazzola, who was the creative head at 41° Experience and who would soon be working on Pakta, took time off to accompany Franco to Lima and help sort out the difficult situation. Sebastian was there again early this year overseeing the kitchen as an example of true friendship, and I salute him.
I was extremely upset while I was in Mexico City a few weeks ago to hear a Peruvian journalist refer to the IK restaurant as being “weird” since the chef was dead, so what was the point of its existing even if the food and ambiance were good? I could not resist telling him that evidently dreams don’t die, especially when you are blessed to have people with heart in your life who will strive to carry on your legacy. We live in a world where celebrity, status, and monetary success trump decency and human values of empathy and courage. It is the selfless actions of people like Franco Kisic who reaffirm our faith in humanity and relationships.
Last April Franco asked me to come and see the restaurant in the last stages of its construction. I immediately hopped on a flight to Lima and, ironically, it was not Ivan, as Franco had always said, but Franco himself waiting for me at the airport! I really admire Franco’s spirit, loyalty, and commitment to open the doors to his brothers dream project. IK is a beautiful restaurant that Franco has kept true to his brother’s philosophy of using fresh Peruvian products and has followed the design blueprint that Ivan had created. Ivan was referred to as a gastronomic ambassador of Peru and this restaurant certainly attempts to carry forth his vision of promoting the local cuisine and regional products. I had an opportunity to work in the kitchen at IK last year while Franco was fine-tuning the menu with his team and got see the back of the house intimately.
The first night I dined there in September it was a full house. Albert Adria was in town for Mistura and he had brought a dozen top chefs from around the world with him, including Peru’s own Gaston Acurio, to introduce them to the restaurant and help spread the world. Albert is a really special man who is incredibly supportive of his friends. He has a big heart and likes to see everyone do well, and has supported friends and former employees striking out on their own. It was fitting that the next morning Franco was on stage introducing his friend and supporter Albert Adria to the audience at Mistura the big annual food event of Peru.
IK restaurant has been open for less than a year and is creating waves in the culinary scene of Lima. With Franco’s focused leadership in the front of the house and an able team in the kitchen, which includes staff members who had previously worked with Ivan this enterprise is steadily gaining repute. As of this spring, another Kisic has taken over in the kitchen. Monica Kisic, with a doctorate in biology, training at the Basque Culinary center in San Sebastian, Spain, and a stint with Dan Barber in New York, has come to work with her cousin Franco. Lima has the distinction of having more females heading major kitchens and it is an exciting phenomenon to observe.
The restaurant’s dining area resembles the inside of a wooden crate or fruit box, as Franco explains it. The walls are covered with reclaimed wood with native plants lining the walls sustained by a hidden irrigation system. The windows in the back of the restaurant overlook a narrow courtyard with a wood burning oven and herb garden. The restaurant interior, with its very organic décor, juxtaposes the contemporary cuisine like the spherical olives on the menu that are reminiscent of Tickets. It is a very soothing space that feels airy and comfortable. The professional kitchen for the restaurant was built by the same company that created the El Bulli kitchen and was shipped from Spain to be put together in Lima.
The 11 tables in the main dining room are decorated by an overhead projection of fascinating organic patterns. The decor is rustic and elegant at the same time, and I observed several internationally known chefs taking pictures (inspiration?) and appreciating the unusual interior. There is a private room upstairs that seats twelve and a bar and lounge tucked underneath that space. I don’t really like to elaborate on food as for me it is the philosophy of the kitchen and restaurant that is more interesting, but I have to say the velo de cherimoya was spectacular. The menu is evolving as this restaurant is gently pioneering and settling into the hearts of Limoans. Franco’s years in the most iconic restaurants of the world in Barcelona has aided in creating some spectacular menus for food as well as cocktails at the bar.
IK Restaurant is located in the swanky Miraflores area of Lima where all the action is centered. I might be biased but this restaurant will certainly not disappoint any guests. I feel really proud of my young friends finished project and the positive response and acclaim that this venture is generating. Lima has a hopping food scene and IK has in less than a year become part of it.
Way to go Franco!