The Chef’s Table star talked life, loves and fire on Down to Business…
Ahead of his first-ever visit to Irish shores for the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Litfest of Food & Wine (May 20th – May 22nd), famed Argentine chef Francis Mallmann got deep with Bobby Kerr on Down to Business.
The man with an international reputation in the restaurant game came to the attention of the general, Netflix-watching public last year with his inspiring appearance on an episode of Chef’s Table. In the documentary, the impact outdoor cooking and the traditions (and fires) of Patagonia have had on his life and career was beautifully conveyed.
As he told Kerr, however, Mallmann strayed away from his roots early on in his career before some wise, if tough words changed everyting.
Having opened his own restaurant at the tender age of 18, Mallmann had gone on to work in France for many years, training with some of the best in the business for many years. He took that culture and those methods back to Buenos Aires…
"After my long stay in France," Mallman recalled, "I came back and opened a restaurant here.
"We had a dinner for the head of [high-end jeweller] Cartier. The man was always so happy, walking around the dining room; I had written a French menu.
"And after dinner, the man very nicely said to me that he'd like to talk to me. He said that he thought that the food wasn't good, that it had nothing to do with France and that he could see that I was [making] a big effort.
"So he was very critical about my work. I looked at him and I thought, 'well this man probably doesn't know what he's talking about...' But I never forgot it.
"Many years later when I found my own path in my career and I started doing my own language of cooking, I realised that he was quite right.
"His saying that was very important with my career because I kept it in the back of my thoughts for many years…"
Mallmann began cooking with open fires.
"At age 40, I decided to change my style of cooking. I turned around completely and I went in another direction.
"I grabbed the tools of my youth in Patagonia, remembering the fires of childhood and looked around into the cooking of the gaúcho, which are our cowboys here...
"I didn't invent anything really. I just embraced those roots of our countries".
The restaurateur certainly enjoys the rustic side of life, saying:
"For me, true happiness is to be under the stars with a big fire, and a long stick to move my coals around, and have a glass of wine with two or three friends.
I mean, you can't get better than that".
With the aforementioned in mind, he offered some advice for people who cremate their steaks every time they hop on the barbeque.
"People get very nervous with food," Mallmann explains. "There's a language in food, there's a certain respect towards your steak or your chicken or your fish when you're cooking.
"And I have a theory that you place a steak on a grill - or a griddle, the same for a fish or a vegetable - and the first thing you have to do is let it cook until it makes a little crust and it cooks through it. And then you can turn it.
"I hate flip and flopping, I think you just destroy every good possibility that the beautiful product had for you...
"Patience is very important. You're gonna cook a steak for 10 minutes; you're going to cook it for seven minutes on the first side, you don't touch it ever.
"Then you flip it for the last few minutes and you eat it with some delicious melted butter".