Since around 400,000 BC, fire has been a crucial culinary component. Roughly at that time, researchers believe humans were intentionally and habitually using fire to cook their food. Based on this tenured, fundamental practice, the culinary experience of Food, Fire & Iron was created.
“We describe Food, Fire & Iron as being about creating community and forging friendships,” says Russell Sparkman, co-founder and local food buff. “That’s a tongue-in-cheek way of acknowledging there is a primal urge in humans to gather around a fire for safety, for warmth and for nourishment.”
Food, Fire & Iron (FFI) launched last year on Washington’s Whidbey Island, a culinary experience based on “open-fire” cooking. The circumstances for the events vary, from hands-on, “chef-oriented” Fire Labs (in which guests fully participating in the prepping and cooking on the various grills before digging in) to larger observational gatherings on a beach or farm where attendees watch the food cook over an open flame then enjoy the smoky results. FFI goes where the seasonal food goes.
“Our approach to cooking focuses on using primarily wood, or wood and hardwood-charcoal mixes, to cook meats, veggies, squashes,” Sparkman says. “It differs from traditional backyard grilling in that it relies upon ground fires (such as a campfire ring) or fire tables, which are metal tables on raised legs. We use an assortment of grates, griddles and wires for suspension to place the foods on, or in, the fires. Fires are lit and the foods are cooked either over [a] flame, or over hot coals or, in the case of items such as potatoes and squash, nestled directly in the embers.”
The whole ordeal is extremely Instagram-worthy, which might have been the impetus for the creation of the whiskey-forward Rusty Iron cocktail. The Sip Northwest team made a recent visit out to Whidbey Island to join the three-person crew of FFI (also including the cheffing couple of Jon-Paul and Jess Dowdell), and rightly so, some liquor was splashing.
While Sparkman was charring rosemary and Cara Cara oranges for garnishes to the numerous dishes — New York strip, razor clams, leg of lamb, salt-baked salmon, vegetarian curry — he threw those two ingredients into a shaker with rye whiskey from nearby Whidbey Island Distillery. And the Rusty Iron was born.
“Our open fire cooks are, by necessity, outdoor activities, so particularly in the fall, winter and spring months in the Pacific Northwest, the warmth and smoke of the fires pairs well with a whiskey-based cocktail,” Sparkman adds. “It provides for warmth all around, inside and out.”
The Rusty Iron
Makes 1 cocktail
1 ½ ounces Whidbey Distillery Bunker Rye
½ ounce Finnriver Cidery & Farm Pommeau
Juice from ½ charred Cara Cara orange
1 sprig rosemary, smoked and lightly charred
Place the cut oranges face down into a very hot cast iron skillet or griddle. Leave them there without moving until a good char develops along the edges of the orange. At the same time, place rosemary sprigs over a smoky wood or hardwood coal fire and let the sprigs smoke and char. You’ll be able to pick up the sprigs and smell them to see if they’ve gained enough smoke scent. When the orange is ready, squeeze one half into a mixing tin, then add the rye, Pommeau, rosemary and ice, then shake vigorously. Double strain – since the charred rosemary will crumble — into a tumbler with a large ice cube. Garnish with a piece of the charred peel and a piece of charred rosemary.