Francis Mallmann: Philosopher King
Argentina’s most celebrated chef, Francis Mallmann, is equally at home in the school of life as he is running some of the world’s best kitchens.
On Francis Mallmann’s Instagram page appears a sentence that may best describe one of the world’s most acclaimed chefs: “Dreaming things no mortal ever dared to dream before.” In a wideranging interview with Dolce, Mallmann revealed himself to be part poet and part philosopher, as well as a chef in charge of his nine restaurants worldwide and author of his most recent book, Green Fire: Extraordinary Ways to Grill Fruits and Vegetables, from the Master of Live-Fire Cooking, a celebration of the art of cooking over fire and vegetarian cuisine.
Mallmann’s ability to see the wider world far beyond his famous kitchens stems from his upbringing in the Patagonia region of Southern Argentina, where he developed what he calls a “silent language” that comes from being in touch with his natural surroundings.
“We were very lucky to be raised there, as we lived in a very remote place in the mountains and we learned to live outside,” recalls Mallmann. “We learned a silent language, which is the language of Patagonia, related to the wind, the snow, the rain, the rivers, the trees, the mountains and that is unexplainable because it went into us in the most beautiful way and has been with me ever since. It has become my biggest companion in life. Whenever I face adversity in life, I recall this beautiful past I had in the mountains, which is part of my present and will be of my future.”
Mallmann also learned to embrace the ability to live a fuller life based on the theory of welcoming the “opposites” in our experiences. “The most beautiful things are opposites,” Mallmann observes. “If you always sleep in a palace in an incredible bed, it’s very boring. If you always sleep under a tree, it’s also very boring. So, you have to sleep under a tree and in the palace, and those contrasts are the ones that teach you to live well, to measure things and to respect things. For me, opposites are very important.”
Mallmann brings this opposite philosophy to his cooking, which has made him one of the world’s top chefs, an author and a television star. Most of us would never think of introducing live fire to fruits — Mallmann does. His book contains a recipe of roasted strawberries with ricotta and mint, paying homage to a long history of strawberry and dairy pairings around the globe, which certainly extends far beyond Wimbledon’s strawberries and cream.
His Green Fire book features more than 60 vegetarian dishes that showcase Mallmann’s impressive seasonings, sauces and finishings, paying tribute to his Argentine influences. The book is also divided seasonally because, as Mallmann believes, the seasons are the engines of cooking.
“I Think I Would Say I’m The Most Disobedient And Irreverent Chef In The World”
“In spring, you have the beautiful small green beans, in the winter you have delicious spinach, kale and cabbages, in the summer you have the flowers and fresh zucchinis and in the fall you have the most delicious pumpkins. So, that’s cooking, kneeling down and picking up what is in season, because that is when those ingredients are at their best,” he says.
Mallmann ran his first restaurant at the tender age of 20 before moving to Paris and learning from some of the great masters. He is definitely a citizen of the world, speaking four languages and currently running restaurants in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Miami and France, with celebrity clients such as David Beckham and Gwyneth Paltrow. He is fiercely passionate and always inspired by the art and beauty of cooking, as well as continuing to make his dreams become reality.
“The beauty of cooking is not that you have a favourite recipe,” says Mallmann. “The beauty of cooking, for me, is that every day you are in love with a favourite ingredient or recipe, depending upon how you woke up or how you dress — all those things influence your thoughts for the day and to have a life that is inspired by hope. That will change every day, according to the spirit of the day. My dreams are always based upon everything possible. That’s the way I live. I like to live and dream about impossible things.”
Influential food writers in the world have asked, “Is Francis Mallmann the most interesting chef in the world?” for his creative use of live, open-fire cooking and unparalleled creativity and experimentation in the kitchen. To that notion, Mallmann scoffs and says no. However, with a twinkle in his eye, this chef and philosopher does admit something.
“I think I would say that I’m the most disobedient and irreverent chef in the world — that I agree on,” says Mallmann with a wry smile. “Irreverence is when you have a stance on your thoughts that are not accordingly fitting to what other people do or think, but you stand for it, you defend it, you explain it and you do it. I like that because that’s what brings change into the world. That’s the tool and engine of change.”
Interview by Estelle Zentil