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On a bustling Thursday with Thai Night specials racing out of the kitchen or a packed house for a special Winemaker Dinner, you wouldn’t know that Chef Gary Kucy never meant to be here. “This career happened completely by accident,” he says. That fateful, happy accident was the result of a high school job at a pizza place where he absolutely fell in love with the kitchen.
After high school, Kucy went to work washing dishes at the Biltmore in Phoenix with the intent of securing an apprenticeship. Three years of work under five global chefs in the apprenticeship program paired with college courses in the evening, and the rest, as they say, is history.
With the apprenticeship complete, Kucy was recruited to the Coyote Café in Santa Fe, New Mexico under the direction of Chef Mark Miller. Here he honed his culinary skills for eight years – with some stints in Australia and San Francisco. It is also where he met a certain pastry chef (see our section on Stacey Cakes for more) who would eventually be the catalyst for landing in McCall. At that time both were wanting to get back to a smaller town, but Jackson Hole came calling. After a few years in Wyoming, the Kucy’s made the move to McCall.
“We moved here with nothing,” Kucy laughs. “No job prospects at all.” Just a desire to live in a smaller community in the mountains – one that Stacey’s family had been coming to since she was a child. During their first winter in town, Kucy started helping out at Tamarack – at the time just a yurt and a lot of dense forest – and started the Wild Bear Kitchen (located in what is now Frenchies on Third). This led to a full-time position at Tamarack Resort and Kucy was hired as employee number seven. “It was so much fun,” says Kucy, “and amazing exposure to the process of building something from the dirt up.”
While Kucy loved being a part of Tamarack experience, he felt that the scope was larger than what he envisioned doing for the long term. When Tamarack closed in the 2008 recession, Kucy found a new home at Rupert’s. “The first summer I actually ran the Clubhouse Restaurant at Jug Mountain Ranch which had just opened,” says Kucy. And come fall, he was brought on to oversee Rupert’s as well. “The restaurant has grown quite a lot,” says Kucy. When he first came on they were serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But Kucy felt that model wasn’t sustainable in the long term. “The vision was to create a cool space where locals would frequent, where the pricing was reasonable, and where you could find great service.”
Fast forward fifteen years and Kucy is still making magic at Rupert’s. “The challenge now is consistency,” he says. And while he loves to experiment with new flavors, he says there is a balance that must exist. “A dish has to be approachable,” says Kucy. “The goal is to find ways to elevate a traditional dish without going over the top.”
And that focus on tradition is an aspect that keeps Kucy in the kitchen. “I love going back to the basics and focusing on the products,” says Kucy. “There isn’t anything better than a really quality piece of fish or cut of meat.” It is the top-notch ingredients that are so satisfying to work with, but, as Kucy says, are also becoming harder to find. That challenge has also encouraged chefs to stay creative and work with products they do have. It also spurs collaboration. “There is a lot of banter in the kitchen,” says Kucy, “everyone comes up with fun ideas and contributes to the components of a dish.” Which is why Kucy fell in love with the kitchen in the first place. Full circle – just like the pizza that led him to McCall.
Fish. There is nothing quite like a quality piece of fish.
Working on perfecting homemade pizza with a new pizza oven.
Chicken and dumplings with my mom.