The Common Flame: Tournant

There’s something completely magical about cooking over an open flame. Fire brings us together not just for sharing a meal, but for experience lasting moments of laughter, love, and community.

In the Common Flame, we continue to discover how cultures across the world are united by a common love of cooking over an open flame. In this edition, we look to the Pacific Northwest of the United States to be inspired by Mona Johnson and Jaret Foster, the duo behind the roving hearth called Tournant.

“We’re inspired by fire stories around the world [. . .] where at one point it was done over an open fire.” — Jaret Foster of Tournant

Meet Mona, Jaret, and Tournant

On paper, Tournant is described as a “boutique catering company and culinary event space based in Portland, Oregon.” If you ask Mona and Jaret, they would probably say Tournant is much more than a restaurant, menu, or even style of cooking. Tournant is a community, belief, and way of life that seeks to impart a sense of place to their diners by way of fire and food.

Tournant is a mobile dining experience that takes hungry diners to ephemeral locations such as mountaintops and meadows and cooks them a meal over an open fire. Each even is specially crafted to transmute the flavors, sights, and smells of the region into each dish on their menu. Mona says they do this to impart “a sense of place” to their diners. Their dinners are a way to experience a moment away from their normal lives. “They get to put their phone down,” Mona says, “and really be in the moment.”

Photo by @evakosmasflores

Mona and Jaret both have a history of working in restaurants across the country, but when they met while working at Portland Farmers Market their passions for bringing a deeper connection with food and fire to their community collided. They aim to bring the popular farm-to-table concept on the road amongst nature by cooking with fire.

Cooking With Fire is Like Alchemy

“The transformative power of fire on a simple vegetable is always alchemy. It’s always magic to us.” — Mona

Fire is wild, sometimes chaotic, and is always at the heart of transformation. Yet, fire is the element of creativity. Using a broad toolkit of cooking techniques from across the world, Jaret and Mona create food experiences as true as the forests, mountains, streams, and oceans where they cook. Their dinners are a full sensory experience that is nothing short of magical. At the heart of this magic is fire. Tournant is a true ceremony of food where farm fresh ingredients are passed through fire to become something truly new and awe-inspiring. Tournant’s creations are pure farm-to fire-to table.

Jaret and Mona making smoked salmon. Photo by @pdxploration

In a recent video highlighting one of Tournant’s latest dining experiences, Jaret describes their technique for baking fish with traditional Native American techniques from the Pacific Northwest. The care for the raw ingredients, essentially a whole salmon caught less than 24 hours before, is evident in Jaret’s preparation. He expertly splays the fish over a soaked cedar plank and hammers the fish in place with a hammer and nails. Every trick he uses has a purpose for bringing the most flavor from the salmon during the cooking process. The cedar plank is soaked in water for 24 hours before cooking to keep the plank from scorching and to steam the fish while cooking. The cedar plank will also release essential oils once it’s near the flame, infusing their flavor into the fish. Jaret uses steel nails, not galvanized ones, when nailing the fish to the board — galvanized nails release chemicals when they’re exposed to heat. Jaret then takes a Sequoia branch and nails it across the fish. Not only will it hold the fish together, it will scorch and smoke while the fish is cooking and bring a smoky flavor dimension to the dish. After a sprinkle of salt, the fish is ready to cook.

Jaret drives two spikes into the ground near a fire with a glowing ember bed and rests the salmon board against the spikes. After shoveling some coals near the board, the magic begins. When the cooking is done, Tournant invites their diners to enjoy the dish right off the board the salmon is cooked on.

“We’re inspired by all of these global techniques. All of the ceremony around food, as well as some of the equipment, community gatherings, [and] flavors and put them through a Pacific Northwest lens.” — Jaret

The dish closest to Mona’s heart (Jaret made it for her when they started dating) is a Spanish ash-roasted vegetable salad called escalivada. To make the dish, Tournant takes whole farm-fresh eggplant, zucchini, peppers, onion, and more and roasts them directly on the embers of their campfire until charred. While the vegetables seem burned, if you peel away the seemingly burnt skin, you’re left with a soft, flavorful, and sweet inside that’s been caramelized and changed by the fire.

Tournant records every dining event they host on their website, giving a glimpse into the ingredients, environs, laughs, and smiles shared around their traveling flame. They’ve roasted oysters and prawns with dry sherry near Hood Canal while basking in the bioluminescent glow of marine life in the bay. They also bring their experience abroad. In Croatia, they host a meal without planning a menu. After gathering a host of local vegetables, cheeses, pastas, and free-formed dishes over a wood-burning hearth.

To experience a Tournant dinner, is to be touched to the soul by fire’s power to make people gather, laugh, and experience nature’s benevolence.

Photo by @evakosmasflores

Cooking the Tournant Way

Tournant uses so many ways to cook over an open fire. They picked up a special cast iron dish used only in Croatia with a special lid that allows you to stack hot coals over its lid letting you cook from below and above. But, if you want to experience your own Tournant-style dinner, check out the tips below.

  1. Pick your scenery.
    You don’t have to go to a mountain top to experience a Tournant-meal in nature. The scenery could be your own backyard or the park down your street. If you want to escape a little deeper into nature, a state or national park is a great place to host a dinner. Bring your grill and setup on a campsite!
  2. Think about your food.
    Tournany only uses local, fresh ingredients in their dishes. Many popular grocery stores carry local vegetables, meats, and cheeses you can use to make your dinner a little more special. But the most important thing is to make sure the food you cook will inspire you. Sometimes, a flame-grilled burger or a pimiento cheese sandwich will do the job.
  3. Be in the moment.
    Whether your guests are your family or a few close friends, make sure everyone has a chance to escape from their day-to-day even just for an evening. Gather around a roaring fire, share stories, or even play a little game of corn hole!
  4. Have fun!
    The most important thing to Tourant is bringing people together and sharing good food, good memories, and soaking in the scenery. Whatever you plan, as long as you are surrounded by your family or friends, you’re sure to create something special.

Check out these recipes to inspire your own Tournant experience.

Escalivada (Catalan Roasted Vegetables)

Photo by Eric Moran. Recipe by Food52

Inspired by Mona’s favorite dish to make over an open flame. This recipe calls for roasting vegetables in the oven, but you can easily roast them over your grill.

Cedar Plank Salmon