Arts and Culture | Religion & Jewish Life

With new restaurant at Canyons, kosher food debuts at U.S. ski resort

PARK CITY, Utah (JTA) – Kosher food isn’t something one generally associates with ski resorts, and Utah isn’t a place known for its Jewish population.

But after Canyons, the state’s largest ski resort, opened the nation’s first ski-area, glatt kosher restaurant this season, the Jews came. And ate. And they were satisfied.

“Response has been phenomenal,” said executive chef John Murcko, who is the vice president of food and beverage at Talisker Corp., which bought Canyons in 2008 and opened the kosher Bistro at Canyons last December.

“We were at 100 percent capacity from the day we opened through the New Year’s Day weekend,” he said. “Word of mouth has been tremendous. Locals are discovering us as well, not just our destination visitors.”

The restaurant has brought more than kosher dining to the resort town of Park City, but also an eruv and weekly Shabbat services – at least for the ski season. The town already had a year-round Reform synagogue, Temple Har Shalom.

Murcko, who was named by Salt Lake Magazine last year as the Best Chef in Utah, said the idea of opening up a kosher restaurant was to stand out.

“Talisker has always sought to create the finest dining and hospitality experiences – and differentiate ourselves from our competition,” he told JTA. “We knew that individuals and families that keep kosher would enjoy a gourmet bistro in Park City, and that locals who love fine bistro-style dining would, too. We started planning it months ago, and we are very pleased how it has come together.”

Murcko traveled to New York to learn kosher cooking, while chef Zeke Wray spent time in Toronto and Los Angeles.

The cuisine is categorized as “New American Kosher Bistro.” Breakfast takes a minimalist approach: bagels and cream cheese, granola, fruit and yogurt for $16. Lunch options are comprised largely of salads and sandwiches, including a kosher Reuben, grilled chicken salad and Israeli couscous on pita.

It’s at dinner that Bistro really cuts loose, starting with the appetizers, including vegetarian chopped liver and seared ahi tuna. There also are plenty of soups – a nice way to end a day on the slopes – but you won’t find chicken with matzah balls. If the soup isn’t enough to keep you warm, the main courses will, from the smoked duck breast with ragu of braised red cabbage, fennel, apple and duck confit to ribeye steaks accompanied by roasted squash, sage white bean puree, leeks and warm smoked cherry tomatoes. The menu also features an array of lamb, pasta and fish dishes — or pastrami sandwiches for those so inclined.

Those looking for Jewish-style cooking should be sure to come on Shabbat. The $85 prix fixe, five-course Friday night dinner includes gefilte fish, chicken noodle soup (still no matzah balls) and a choice of turkey involtini, standing rib roast or chicken schnitzel all served with potato kugel on the side. The $65 Shabbat lunch is six courses built around a hearty flanken cholent.

The Bistro’s COR kashrut certification comes from the Kashruth Council of Canada, the largest kosher certification agency north of the border. COR certifies more than 1,000 facilities and thousands more products.

COR Rabbi Tsvi Heber oversees Bistro, and two New York-based rabbis, Yosef Kirszenberg and Mendel Wilmovsky, serve as the on-site authorities.

Kirszenberg, 46 and originally from Argentina, has been coming to Utah from New York for the last two years to run programs at Canyons. Since the restaurant opened, he has been spending 2 1/2 weeks out of every month in Utah overseeing the Canyons’ kosher dining, examining the 3-mile-long eruv that encompasses the resort hotel area every Friday and leading Shabbat services.

“We have a beautiful shul — it was built especially to be a shul — in the same building as the restaurant,” Kirszenberg said, adding that Canyons has had a minyan every week since the restaurant opened.

Kirszenberg, who is a Lubavitcher, now leaves his wife and nine children, aged 1 to 21, at home in New York when he comes to Utah to work, but he says he hopes to be able to move with them to Utah sometime in the future.

And what about skiing?

“Not yet, but everyone is pushing me to do it,” he said. “The last time was when I was 9 years old in Argentina.”