Q+A with Francis Mallmann: Argentina's Grillmaster
South America’s celebrated chef and grillmaster, Francis Mallmann, just released his second English-language cookbook—a follow up to the instant classic Seven Fires. Mallmann on Fire, written with Peter Kaminsky, is far more than the sum of its 100 live-fire recipes. It takes us on a vibrant culinary journey around the world and into the heart of a gentleman gaucho with a peripatetic soul.
Outfitted with only a portable chapa (cast-iron griddle) and a primal pleasure for food and flame, Mallmann cooks in crowded cities, rural hilltops and sandy coastlines from Paris to New York; Garzon, Uruguay to Trancoso, Brazil; and deep in the remote alpine wilderness of his native Patagonia, Argentina. During his travels, Mallmann creates rustic dishes inspired by fresh local ingredients and a philosophy that wherever and whenever you can make a fire, you can make a meal.
T+L caught up with Chef Mallmann during his cookbook launch at il Buco Alimentari in New York City.
Q: How does Mallmann on Fire differ from Seven Fires?
A: With Seven Fires, I introduced readers to the seven types of traditional Argentine live-fire cooking that form the backbone of my cuisine. Today, I am constantly on the road, cooking for my television shows and hosting private fire dinners around the world. Mallmann on Fire shares these journeys through photos, storytelling and recipes. When I travel, I cook with what is there, not with what I want to be there. That forces me to think and create.
Q: How has your European culinary training influenced your grilling style?
A: My early education in French cooking has certainly influenced my approach to fire. I love the division of labor in French kitchens. It is meticulous, careful and very measured—a far cry from the crash, bang and hurry of many modern restaurants. Although I don’t preside over such a regimented kitchen, the notion that things take time and must be attended to with a watchful eye is at the heart of my cooking.
Q: You’ve been known to use books of poetry in lieu of place cards. What are some of your favorite poems?
A: I love poetry. A few that I particularly cherish are “Lullaby” by W. H. Auden, “Two English Poems” by Jorge Luis Borges, “When We Two Parted” by Lord Byron, and “Desire in Belfast” by Sean Haldane.
Q: Why did you launch this cookbook in the United States?
A: I see a growing awareness among Americans in regards to how they use their time and what they choose to eat. They are beginning to say no: no to junk food and soft drinks, no to microwaves and drive-thru meals eaten in the car. I want this cookbook to inspire Americans to spend more time outside cooking and celebrating love and friendship.
Q: What’s the best way for newbie grillers to start cooking recipes from Mallmann On Fire?
A: New grillers may want to purchase two simple Weber kettle grills—one for cooking and another for the “mother fire,” which is used to heat coals that feed the cooking fire. I recommend starting with a steak, like the Cowboy Rib Eye a la Plancha (p. 97). You only need salt and a hot grill, but make sure to be attentive when cooking it.
Q: What have you learned from all your journeys?
A: Whether you’re cooking in the streets of Paris, under the Brooklyn Bridge, or deep in the Andes, fire always has a magic way of slowing things down and bringing people together.
Nora Walsh is Travel + Leisure's Latin America correspondent.