Up the long wooden steps of the Smoky Park Supper Club, the construction is starting to wrap up. The rustic structure built of recycled shipping containers rises between the river and the road like a temple to an alternative style of cooking for the commercial kitchen: wood-fired. And that temple has finally announced its long-awaited opening date will be Friday, Sept. 11.
“I’m just excited to get everybody in here and trained up on building fires and cooking with fires and what that means for them as a cook,” says chef Michelle Bailey, who worked several years ago with Mark Rosenstein‘s as chef of The Market Place. “It’s a whole different approach to the job.”
Back in May, Xpress explored how Rosenstein and Bailey collaborated on the menu and constructed a kitchen with wood-fired ovens and grills. Of particular note was the Le Panyol, a French heat-retaining oven, which differs from conventional convection-style ovens in that it relies on heat radiation. At that point, Bailey was just beginning to learn that oven and the techniques for using it.
Things are different now. “I feel really comfortable with that oven,” she says. “You do really have to get to know it. … It’s its own unit, its own thing. It’s like a person that you have to get to know. It’s maybe the most important co-worker for all of us.”
Lately Bailey has been cooking half chickens with wood-roasted garlic rub, fresh thyme and lemon zest and whole Sunburst trout in a cast-iron skillet. “There’s a nice crispy skin on them; those turn out really nice,” she says. It is food cooked at a slower pace with careful attention to details.
“You feel very close to your food when you cook this way. It’s very intimate,” she explains. “You have to spend time with it, and you really have to think about your process — how you’re going to start, where you need to be in two hours, where you need to be in six hours — and caress that fire as you go to make sure it stays where you need it.”
Smoky Park Supper Club will at first open only for dinner with plans to expand to lunch service in the coming months. Eventually, Bailey hopes to offer a late-night bar menu, but that is still a month or two away. On the supper menu, look for items like syrah-braised lamb leg and bone-in pork chops. The seasonal bar menu feature offerings like brisket and blue cheese empanadas, a house-ground Apple Brandy Beef burger or handmade bratwurst.
“We’re going to have all these à la carte vegetable sides,” says Bailey, “and those are going to change weekly based on what’s available at the market. … It’s a lot to do with what our farmers are excited about and what kind of things they are growing, and we’re just trying to let that drive what we are doing.”
Large murals by Asheville artist Melissa Terrezza cover the walls — two pen-and-ink-style crows and a large wall reminiscent of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” painted in blues, black and white. High-backed wooden booths flank the walls, and rustic wooden fans spin overhead where light beams in from high windows.
The bar offers service both inside and out through walk-up windows, and the large field between the restaurant and the river will allow guests to order their food to go, grab a beer and picnic by the water.
Owner Matt Logan (also owner of 5 Walnut Wine Bar) entrusted Rosenstein with staffing the kitchen for the venture. “Last fall, I put out a Craigslist post in seven cities and received 125 applicants,” says Rosenstein. “And at first we were thinking that we needed to get someone from [outside Asheville] to come here. But as we started talking more and more and more, we realized that we really wanted to try to find somebody here.”
Rosenstein sent an email to his connections, letting them know that they had begun to search locally for a chef. However, he wound up running into his old protege, Bailey, at an A-B Tech culinary team practice where she was coaching the team for a national competition. “When I walked out of there, I said, ‘That’s who I want to hire,'” he says. “And I knew it because Michelle is so professional, and she knows how to tell people how to do things better in a way that it is understood, that it is meant to benefit, not to put them down. So she’s developed this incredible professional ability, and she’s just a great person. She has a head for numbers, but she is great with people, and this is all about people.”
In her last position as executive chef at Season’s at Highland Lake in Flat Rock, Bailey commanded a staff of 35. And they didn’t just cook dinner every night — they also prepared massive banquets and catered parties that were held on the property. But now, she’s in charge of about a dozen cooks and in a very new environment. “Here, the kitchen set up is completely different,” says Bailey, who collaborated with Rosenstein in developing the menu. “The way we cook, the way we approach our prep list, the way we approach our menu — everything is different.
“A lot of the things we’re doing here, we’re trying to wipe the slate clean of a lot of those preconceived notions that we have about food and cooking,” she says. “We want to let Smoky Park Supper Club become its own place, embody its own spirit in the food. This place is so unique. … This place, the structure and the type of equipment we have in the kitchen is defining a lot of what happens with the food. [You] don’t have to manipulate the food a whole lot when you’re cooking it with fire and when you’re working with people who bring you beautiful, pristine produce and meats.”
Following is a preview of menu items and prices from a press release from the Smoky Park Supper Club:
The Smoky Park Supper Club menu, which is subject to change based on seasonal availability, will be divided into four parts:
Bar Snacks ($4-$7) like spicy crackerjack (popcorn, peanuts, bacon, caramel, chili flake), wood-roasted cashews and regional cheeses.
Sides ($4-9) such as seared tomatoes with goat cheese and pickled mustard seed.
Plates ($8-$18) like wood-grilled burgers and cast-iron grilled cheese.
Supper Entrees ($13-$45) like salt-baked snapper, roasted chicken, braised leg of lamb and wood-grilled, bone-in pork chop.
A selection of desserts and ice cream will also be available in the $7-$9 range.
Smoky Park Supper Club is at 350 Riverside Drive. It is scheduled to open for dinner on Friday, Sept. 11.