Denver’s Bruto shuts down for the week after fire in wood-fired oven

Chef Kelly Whitaker couldn’t stand the heat of Bruto’s kitchen this weekend.

The owner of the Latin-inspired restaurant at 1801 Blake St., was cooking as a “guest chef” on Sunday, Feb. 5, taking Bruto executive chef Michael Diaz de Leon’s place for the night in for a wine pairing dinner with winemaker Rosalind Reynolds of Emme Wines.

He was using a Flambadou, a cast iron funnel designed to ignite and melt fat quickly, to create an oyster dish with pork cheek fat on top. “When I cook with wood-fire, I like it hot,” Whitaker said. But a spark caught in the ductwork of the wood-fired oven and quickly put an end to the evening.

“I had taken one course out to a couple of tables before we had to shut it down,” he said.

Whitaker and his staff extinguished the fire, but there were still remnants left in the ductwork, so they cleared out the 20 guests and called the Denver Fire Department; firefighters showed up quickly and were able to save the specialty wood-fired oven, which came from Italy.

“The Denver Fire Department was incredible and thoughtful when it came to putting out this fire because typically you do what you gotta do at all costs to put everything out,” Whitaker said. “But they really brought in the experts to help save us from serious damage. They held off using water, which would have cracked the oven and could have potentially closed us for months, and instead used dry chemicals to make sure the damages weren’t too irreparable.”

The James Beard Award-nominated chef believes the fire could have been partly caused by a shipment of wet wood, which could have created some soot and buildup in the oven.

This kind of thing happens, he added. “It’s not crazy, but it got a little crazier than usual. … We avoided a much worse situation, but we’re going to be back and at it.”

Whitaker said Bruto will reopen this weekend once damages to the building’s ductwork and roof are repaired, with Diaz de Leon back in the kitchen.

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