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Harper & Company: In Conversation With Francis Mallmann

By Andrew Harper

The Harper Way | December 6, 2017

Francis Mallmann, South America’s beloved chef, author and restaurateur, has achieved global acclaim for his distinctive style of cooking and larger-than-life personality. Inspired by traditional Argentine barbecuing techniques, the native Patagonian has brought open-fire cooking into the mainstream, preparing meat, vegetable and even fruit dishes over, under and around blazing bonfires. The panache with which he cooks is so seductive and the mix of flavors and textures so extraordinary — duck skin and roasted peaches, anyone? — that he keeps gourmets guessing.

Francis Mallmann preparing his signature Argentine dishes over fire - Credits: Laura Austin (far left); Audrey Ma (far right)

Mallmann grew up in the town of Bariloche, near Argentina’s Lake District, and credits his culinary methods to the native gauchos of the area. At the age of 20, Mallmann traveled to France and trained in some of the country’s top kitchens where he became an expert in haute-French cuisine. After years of cheffing and managing, he decided to open his own restaurant and return to the more time-honored cookery methods of his native country.

While most of his restaurants are in South American locales, this year sees the debut of his first in Europe, at Château La Coste, which encompasses Andrew Harper’s recommended property Villa La Coste, near Aix-en-Provence, France. We reached out to Mallmann to learn about his culinary philosophy, which of his restaurants is his favorite and what food he prefers when traveling.

When did you first discover your love of cooking?

When I was 9 after being part of a lunch in a restaurant under the shade of a tree. It showed me joy, passion and freedom.

Who or what has been most influential in helping you become the chef you are today?

France, as a country, as a culture that celebrates food with passion.

What has been the most challenging part of your career? And the most rewarding?

I have lived my life at the edge of uncertainty and the rewards [have] always opened unknown doors.

What is your culinary philosophy?

Be simple, keep it simple and make it taste [like] what it is.

Is there a single dish that you are most proud of? Is there a certain dish that people associate you with?

Yes, when a Patagonian gaucho roasts me a whole lamb. I am associated with cooking with fires, hot stones, embers, pits, ashes and grills.

Whole fish being cooked over embers Laura Austin

What do you consider a gourmet meal? Do you believe that price correlates with quality?

There is no [such] thing as a gourmet meal; there is delicious food and wine that enhances the thoughts of guests and provides better conversations, [but] by the way, the food and wine was delicious. Good products, such as cutlery, glasses, china and linens, are pricey, so yes.

Fuegos de Apalta and Siete Fuegos are set amid vineyards; Los Fuegos is in a popular Miami hotel; and your latest eponymous undertaking is in France. How do you select the locations of your restaurants?

If they are remote, the better for me.

Which of your restaurants is the closest to your heart and why?

Patagonia Sur in Buenos Aires, because it’s my home as well.

What is the best meal you have ever eaten?

So many — all more related to the company than to the food and wine.

How does food play a role in your travels? Does it help determine where you go?

I travel so much that I am not too adventurous. I love the best hotels with the best room service.

While visiting another country, do you ever go on food tours?

I find food tours unromantic and boring.

Is there a specific dish that you have created that was inspired by a travel experience?

I have created nothing. I have embraced the roots of our natives and gauchos.

Mallmann cooking over an open flame Michael Evans

What has been the most unique setting or location that you have ever cooked?

Always with a fire under the stars in the wild.

What has been your favorite trip? And why?

Always going home to my island in Patagonia — my heart pounds fiercely there.

Where do you still dream of going?

My heart can’t embrace more countries, so I have decided to deepen the relations with the places I love.

What can you not travel without?

Watercolors, ink pen, books and antique textiles to decorate my hotel rooms.

What can make or break a trip for you?

Being in a hurry breaks; a love affair makes.

What is your favorite travel memory?

The Eugenio C boat [the iconic Italian-built ocean liner] in which we traveled many times from New York City to Buenos Aires.

Francis Mallmann - Soraya Matos
Meat being cut and prepared - Audrey Ma

If you could cook for anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you make for them?

Poe, Borges, Auden and [Francisco] “Perito” Moreno.

What big changes are you seeing in the food industry?

Maybe a generation that is less arrogant than us.

Do you have any passions unrelated to cooking?

Writing and cross-country skiing. [Mallmann writes a weekly column for his hometown newspaper.]

Any news on upcoming projects for you?

New books and new dreams and more writing!

Anything else you want us to know?

Yes, I long for a more patient, caring world.

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Andrew Harper Photo Our editors write under the Andrew Harper byline so they can travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who they are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.

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