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Francis Mallmann Talks About His Pivot to Vegetables
Turns out, rising generations have pull
Argentine chef, Francis Mallmann, one of the most memorable among those profiled on the Netflix original series, ‘Chef’s Table’, is famous throughout the world — even though his residence of choice is as remote as one can get on an island in a Patagonian lake. Mallmann, with nine international restaurants, is known for his open-fire, primal cooking and his hands-on, lusty enthusiasm for cooking and, well, life.
While his 2015 Netflix portrayal depicts his outdoor whole-animal cookery, his newest book, Green Fire: Extraordinary Ways to Grill Fruits and Vegetables, is a departure from that image. Broken Palate sat down with Mallmann to talk about the book and its influences.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Broken Palate: What do you do when you visit New York?
Francis Mallmann: Well, I like very much going to have a lunch to a place that is called Mary's Fish Camp. I like the lobster roll or bun or whatever it's called. I like the fried oysters. I feel really far away from three-star-whatever. I like to sit in a simple place and have something delicious to eat. I don't want any dancing or waiters or all those sort of poems they say to you when the plate arrives.
BP: Many people think of you as the whole-animal chef. How did you about-face to cooking fruits and vegetables?
FM: I was inspired by young people who wrote to me saying that they loved my work, but that they were vegans or vegetarians. After years of getting hundreds of messages like that — and they were so respectful — I thought I owed them something.
Then when I started this book, it was like having a very precise mirror of my life. Every time I did a recipe and every time I thought about what's happening on the planet with meats and fish; I thought about how we have destroyed the oceans and we are doing a huge amount of harm to the earth with all the cows that we grow, antibiotics, and whatnot. So I think that this new path of grains and vegetables won't take away the meat, but it will certainly make it more healthy.
When I was like 13, I lived in Patagonia, but I felt that I was holding hands with this incredible movement all around the world of music and the hippies and the protests of the Vietnam War. We were really holding hands. Nobody could stop us. It was so strong what I felt, and in fact, when I was 16, I moved to California because of that, because I wanted to feel on my own skin what was happening. I have this feeling that the 16-, 18-year-olds today are holding hands; the most beautiful thing that they own is their ambition not to collect properties as we did, paintings, cars, or whatever, but they have the ambition of making a better world.
I have this feeling that the 16-, 18-year-olds…. the most beautiful thing that they own is their ambition not to collect properties as we did, paintings, cars, or whatever, but they have the ambition of making a better world. — Francis Mallmann
BP: Are there any young people in particular that you've mentored or that have sort of mentored you on some level?
FM: My children. I have seven. Two of them are vegans, and again, in a very nice way, they don't drink wine from my cellars because they only take organic or biodynamic wines.
BP: What products are you excited to cook with when you're home?
FM: I think that what I most love are potatoes. They're the most elegant, versatile…
BP: They're elegant?
FM: They adapt to whatever you want. They can become a cream; they can become a French fry. You bake them in the oven cut like dominoes for two hours and they're crispy outside and wet inside. So they react to different techniques of cooking and they always surprise you, and they have this sort of balanced taste…..I want to make a book about potatoes.
BP: What is your connection to the reader in this book?
FM: Well, the first time I wanted to publish a book when I was 27, a cooking book, I went to see this very nice publisher. He was quite grown up. He probably was older than me now. I'm 66. He probably was 70, and he read my ideas and he read the recipes and he looked at me and he gave me back the manuscript and he said to me, ‘Well, whenever you want to do a cooking book for the people, come back. This book is for you.” He stood up to say goodbye very nicely, but I never forgot that.
So this book is a very simple book where I didn't try to invent anything. I didn't try to make new recipes. I just tried to embrace my love for vegetables and respect for each vegetable in a simple way. [For example] I think that the three most important ingredients for cooking vegetables are first of all, patience, second in the quality of the ingredient, and the third, the respect of the ingredient, the respect to the ingredient. Those three things can't be taken lightly.
I think that the three most important ingredients for cooking vegetables are first of all, patience, second in the quality of the ingredient, and the third, the respect of the ingredient, the respect to the ingredient. Those three things can't be taken lightly.
— Francis Mallmann
BP: Who is a chef you have most enjoyed cooking with?
BP: My last question: I read on Air Mail that you never leave home without your berets and a textile for your bed. Did you bring them to New York?
FM: Yes, I have a black, beautiful rug, very old rug, wool rug from Bhutan on my bed. This one is very light, very big, but very, not heavy because I have this long trip and I'm going to Singapore. It's a hundred degrees.
BP: Are the berets always the same?
FM: Pink or blue. And the top is always sewn by me. You see? (He leans over).
I sew every day. I fix things for my children. I do my patches on my jeans, on my shirts. I do hats for my little children. I always have a couple of projects.
Carrots with Cream and Thyme
I am, by some standards, a French-trained chef making gaucho cuisine. This recipe—quite simple—showcases both sides. The carrots are cooked in a skillet on a parrilla with a reduction of thyme-infused cream, a time-honored French way of adding flavor and texture.
6 large carrots, peeled and sliced into ½-inch-thick (1.25 cm) rounds
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more
1 cup (237 ml) heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Prepare a fire for high heat and set a grate over it.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the carrots and boil for 3 minutes. Drain thoroughly.
Brush the surface of a large cast-iron skillet lightly with olive oil and set the skillet over the grate (or over medium heat on the stovetop, if cooking indoors). When the oil shimmers, add the carrots, working in batches if necessary. Cook until they are browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes, then turn and brown them on the other side. If you cooked them in batches, return all the carrots to the skillet and slowly add half the cream. Cook until the cream has reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining cream and the thyme and toss together with the carrots using two spatulas. Cook until the cream thickens and blends with the carrots, then serve.
— Excerpted from Green Fire by Francis Mallmann (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022.