In the first season of Netflix’s culinary documentary series Chef’s Table, David Gelb and Co. fixed their lens on Francis Mallmann, Argentina’s most famous cook. Mallman is a self-described romantic and one of the most prominent chefs in Latin America. He resides in a small cabin on a remote island in Patagonia, Argentina, where he focuses on cooking with open fire. Mallman owns restaurants in Argentina, Uruguay, Miami, Chile, and France.
What was Mallmann’s journey through the culinary world like?
Mallman was born in Buenos Aires and moved to Patagonia with his family at the age of 13. There, he became obsessed with music after hearing the Monkees for the first time, and he dropped out of school. He started his first restaurant when he was 19 before moving to France, where he worked in the kitchens of multiple three-Michelin-star restaurants.
Mallmann returned to Argentina and cooked the cuisine of France, until a visiting French diner criticized his food, explaining it wasn’t “really” French. The chef came to the realization that he was trying to copy what he had learned instead of cooking his own food. He looked to his native Argentina and first began cooking with fire at Los Negros, a restaurant he opened in the small town of Garzón, Uruguay. Los Negros became so popular, it sparked a revitalization of the town, but eventually, Mallman felt his soul was no longer in the restaurant, so he closed it.
These days, Mallman lives minimally in Patagonia and is married to chef Vanina Chimeno, mother of the youngest of his six children — but the two do not live together.
What is his “aha” moment?
Mallmann’s entire worldview is based on the idea of freedom — being free to do what he wants, to live as he pleases, without compromise. Mallmann says he became enamored with this idea as an eight-year-old, when he visited a man who drove a beautiful car, with a different woman riding in the passenger seat each day, and with naked women sunbathing in his backyard.
What are some notable (and also ridiculous) quotes from Mallmann?
- On his cooking philosophy: “I am a cook that uses cooking to send this message of a way of living. I’m always cooking in remote places, in the wild, with fires. So my message is: Get out of your chair or your sofa or your office, and go out.”
- On his decision to close Los Negros: “I can’t keep a restaurant because my children are in love with it... I have to go on with my life. I have to go on living and growing and doing what I have to do, which is not a very easy life to be adapted to as kids. I’m a bit selfish, because I think it takes a toll on them.”
- On why he likes cooking with fire: “When you cook with fires, when you build a fire, it is a bit like making love. It could be huge, strong. Or it could go very slowly in ashes and little coals. And that’s the biggest beauty of fire: It goes from zero to 10 in strength. And in between zero and 10, you have all these little peaks and different ways of cooking with it, and it’s very tender and very fragile.”
- On how being uncertain improves a person: “My life has been a path at the edge of uncertainty. Today I think we educate kids to be settled in the comfortable chair. You have to have your job, you have your little car, you have a place to sleep, and the dreams are dead. You don’t grow on a secure path. All of us should conquer something in life, and it needs a lot of work, and it needs a lot of risk. In order to grow and to improve, you have to be there a bit at the edge of uncertainty.”