Man. Fire. Wood. It’s a great combination.
In 2012, Chef John Murcko changed dining in Park City when he re-imagined all the restaurants at what was then called Canyons Resort owned by Talisker. With a talented team—Clement Gelas, Briar Handley, Zeke Wray and many others—Murcko brought resort food into the new food world of unstuffy service, farm-to-table ingredients and local sourcing.
Then he was hired by the Earl Holding family to do the same thing at Sun Valley Resort in Idaho.
Now Murcko is back: His new Firewood opened on his old Main Street stomping grounds. As usual with Murcko, he’s right on top of a nationwide trend: cooking over fire. The centerpiece of Firewood on Main’s kitchen is a massive wood burning grill by Grillworks, a version of the Inferno built for Chef Tom Colicchio, endorsed by Chef Jose Andres and used by Chef Dan Barber. One of the adjustable-height grills is fueled with oak, one with cherry and apple wood—and as the servers deliver dishes to the diners, they tell you which wood was used for each particular dish.
It’s not often that one piece of equipment dominates a restaurant kitchen and cuisine the way this grill does. Each chef is constantly checking the fire as well as the food—poking at piles of coals, adding a piece of wood from the stack stored under the counter, making sure the cooking temperatures are correct and even. “You don’t just turn a dial to a certain setting and forget about it until the cooking time is up,” says one line cook. “It’s easy to get involved in something else, then turn round and find your fire’s gone out.” Despite the extra complication, everyone in the kitchen seems to love what they’re doing. Or maybe those weren’t big grins. Maybe they were grimacing from all the heat.
Just because all the food (except dessert) is cooked with fire doesn’t mean everything has a grilled or charred taste. The grilled oyster—a version of Rockefeller with creamed spinach, bacon and beet-pickled shallot—has only the faintest whiff of smoke, and the duck-leg confit’s time over apricot wood mostly served to firm up the outside of the fat-cooked meat. Other dishes, like the (inevitable) pork belly glazed with honey wine apple vinegar and, of course, the Kobe New York strip, declared their cooking process more boldly. Murcko pulls inspiration from all over the country and the globe—the Kobe was sauced with black garlic, the fantastic cauliflower salad, with currants, almonds and a spicy vinaigrette, had a whiff of India.
Desserts, thank goodness, are made in another part of the kitchen with a regular stove, and pastry chef (and ordained Episcopal priest) Aimee Altizer emphasizes deep-flavored, unfussy creations like a caramelized apple tart with marzipan ice cream or a warm chocolate cake with coffee-roasted beet gelato.
Firewood is a big restaurant, but the dining room, paneled in horizontal weathered planks with a wall of industrial paned windows looking into the working kitchen, feels cozy.
Asked who designed the place, Murcko answers, “me,” and goes on to tell the story behind the dining tables which he handmade with his father, where the wood for the cypress table came from (his property in Escalante) and the function of all those decorative rusty machinery parts.
John Murcko tends to be a cheerful guy—his whole face crinkles when he smiles and he smiles a lot. But he seems especially happy about this new venture, probably because he’s back in the place he likes best. Behind the stove.
306 Main St., Park City, 435-252-9900
written by: Mary Malouf
photography by: Adam Finkle