Like all new businesses, it began as a spark of an idea.
As their Langley restaurant business was winding down, chef and blacksmith Jon-Paul “JP” Dowdell and his wife Jess were mulling over a much different venture — outdoor, open-fire cooking.
Bringing branding and marketing skills to the table, Russell Sparkman joined the couple, and a partnership was forged.
Inspired by Francis Mallmann, an Argentine chef with unique barbecuing techniques featured on the Netflix show “Chef’s Table,” the three friends set out to fire up South Whidbey with their passion for cooking.
JP said human connection has been a driving force for their business, which they named Food, Fire and Iron.
“As soon as we lit a fire and started cooking some food, people put their phones away and started talking,” he said.
“We feel like we’re tapping into something that’s been the center of human experience for hundreds of thousands of years,” Sparkman said.
Food, Fire and Iron has several components, the first being to gather people for Meat and Greets, an open-fire cooking experience moving around different South End locations starting this month. The group is highly mobile, never settling down in one location.
Sparkman noted this is a much different experience than the traditional “backyard barbecue in America.” Meats and veggies are roasted over multiple fire tables, or fire rigs, that JP has built himself. JP’s goal for this year is to sell the fire rigs he fabricates, adding an e-commerce element to the business.
An associate helps tend the fires while JP, Jess and Sparkman cook. But the spectacle wouldn’t be complete without dessert — s’mores, specifically.
Being in the Pacific Northwest, the weather has been a welcome challenge. JP said their perfect dream is to open-fire cook in the snow more often.
They also lead fire labs, a more hands-on and educational experience for the pyro-curious. Over the course of four hours, people in a focus group of 10 to 12 can learn how the cooking is done exactly instead of just admiring it.
And eventually, the Whidbey entrepreneurs are looking into sailing exhibitions for the summer. Sparkman is certified as a captain for the Schooner Suva, which they hope to sail to lesser populated islands in the Puget Sound and cook food on the beaches.
Jess has been leading catering with the Dowdells’ other business, Roaming Radish. An integral part of the proceedings, she helps co-produce events and provides the food for grilling. She also handles all logistics such as licensing and permits involved with food service.
“She is a master at coordinating the complexities,” JP said.
The trio has even worked with a member of the Quinault Nation to learn salmon smoking techniques.
“Each of us has been on the island for decades,” Sparkman said. “We take a lot of pride that this is a born-on-Whidbey-Island project that we definitely see gaining national attention.”
During the Meat and Greets, four or five fire stations will be active, allowing for 40 to 50 guests. The first one is Saturday, March 14 at Dancing Fish Vineyards in Freeland, from 1 to 5 p.m. Tickets are $85 each.