Playing with Fire
Francis Mallmann is an Argentine chef, known as much for his bohemian, nomadic lifestyle as for his flare with smoke and fire. He is the charismatic bon vivant, who recites poetry as he toils over huge wooden pyres.
After leaving home at a tender age, Francis Mallmann opened his first restaurant at 18. Eventually finding his way to the kitchens of Paris, the young chef found his true calling once he began applying his skills to the traditional Argentine grilling and smoking techniques of his childhood in Patagonia. He now owns seven restaurants scattered across the South American continent and beyond. Find them from the bright lights of Buenos Aires to Uruguay’s hippie chic fishing village of Jose Ignacio and the tumbleweed hamlet of Garzon.
His international reach extends with the opening of Los Fuegos at Miami Beach’s Faena Hotel and Villa La Coste in the south of France. What’s more, there are rumours of his first UK venue launching this Autumn in London’s Mayfair.
Mallmann Cooking Style
His style is bold; a rustic expression of the Argentine countryside. Mallmann famously makes use of seven different types of fire for cooking (techniques he based a book on). Not only is he a master of this chosen medium, but his attention to service and mise en scene is just as keen.
Perhaps most exciting of all is that he has opened his treasured Patagonian island. On occasion, he receives a small party for wild cooking classes from the master himself.
La Isla in Lago La Plata is gloriously remote. To reach the private retreat, visitors must fly from Buenos Aires to the port town of Comodoro Rivadavia. From there, they drive a dirt road for five or six hours, through fields of roaming cattle. Finally, they’ll embark on a bracing one-hour boat ride across a frigid lake.
La Isla does not disappoint. Francis Mallmann first discovered Lago La Plata some 30 years ago and decided to build a cabin there. The original home is now used by staff. Meanwhile the newest abode, La Soplada (meaning ‘blown away’), was built for his Argentine TV series on outdoor cooking.
As part of the show, La Soplada cabin moved across Patagonia before finally retiring to La Isla. Framed low against the horizon, the ink black cabin is hemmed by lenga trees. Inside, there is an air of simple elegance. Shelves bulge with books and logs crackle in the hearth. The three bright bedrooms are replete with thick blankets. Large windows give on to Patagonia’s Cerro El Gorro mountain peaks and impenetrable forests reflect in the clear lake waters. There is no WiFi or phone reception and lights run off generators. Fittingly, everything else runs off the power of fire – from heating water to cooking.
Depending on his schedule, Francis Mallmann accepts guests to his slice of Patagonia a few times a year. For US$66,000, up to six guests are invited to the island for a six day experience. The legendary chef will treat them private cooking lessons. The highly exclusive experience includes private transport to and from the island from Comodoro Rivadavia, food and activities (including a mountain guide). Every day, one of the meals will be a fire cooking lesson.
The opportunity to eat even the simplest of meals, like fresh lake trout baked in clay over an open fire, in this setting, is one few restaurant experiences could ever come close to.