Barbecue: 8 tips from Argentinian chef Francis Mallmann to make it perfect


“We often think that the barbecue is a male affair, but that’s not true: fire is very feminine, asserts Francis Mallmann. You have to have an intuition, a patience, which men don’t have as much as women. The Argentinian chef, star of Latin America and legend of gastronomy, knows what he is talking about: he is called the “master of fire”. His flame and ember cooking techniques have been the subject of numerous books, TV shows and even a Netflix documentary. Who better than him to upgrade our barbecues, the summer food ritual par excellence?

France: its inspiration

To meet Francis Mallmann, however, you have to go to Patagonia. There, at the end of a dirt road, 160 kilometers long, you reach a lake, which you cross to reach the small wild island where he settled, cut off from everything, facing the mountains bordering the Chilean border. . The chef was born here, in a house where the heating, the hot water, the kitchen… everything worked on a wood fire. In the mid-1970s, he opened his first restaurant and discovered France through recipe books. In this country, everything attracts him: cooking techniques, products, women, Paris… He flies off to the capital, writes to all the three-star restaurants in the country: twenty-one in total. Some refuse his candidacy, others welcome him with open arms. Back home, he applies to the letter the precepts of French cuisine which the best chefs in the country trained him to do. However, something is wrong. He loves France, passionately. But he is not French. This kitchen is not his. “I had to find something that belonged to me. I thought back to the feelings of my childhood, and I started to set fire to all my restaurants,” he recalls.

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The fire in the heart of his kitchen

While the rest of the world has embarked on the race for molecular cuisine, Francis Mallmann spends hours, weeks, years “observing the fire, this silent and inexplicable language. It’s like a lover, he continues, I discover new things every day. It identifies seven types of cooking (over the flame, in embers, in a cauldron, on the grill, etc.), as well as around ten levels of fire, ingredients for a palette of smoky flavors and infinite textures. “The first ingredient is patience: you have to get to know the products to choose the best technique and the ideal cooking time. I look, I understand, I decide, he explains. To get started, you need an iron pan, a place to make a fire, and maybe a string above it for string cooking. There’s nothing better than a chicken cooked on a string, smoked for five hours, because it makes it very tender and very juicy. No need for advanced equipment: the important thing is the conversation it creates and the joy of being together. In 2017, Francis Mallmann opened his only establishment in Europe. It is a unique address, nestled in the heart of Château La Coste, with an art trail that winds between the vines of a magnificent Provençal estate. Obviously for this lover of French poetry who has a passion for the region and “its markets, its incredible products such as fish and lamb”. “France has been very generous with me,” he says with a hint of emotion. To return there with a small restaurant was a silent joy in my heart. The “little restaurant” is, in fact, a spectacular place, sandwiched between a piece by Daniel Buren and a mobile by Calder. In the hacienda-like courtyard, the chef has had an extraordinary metal dome erected, to measure and according to his plans, around which the cooks work under the eyes of the customers. It cooks in ashes, it smokes, it grills, it roasts: it is the most chic barbecue in the world, a work among works. When he goes to the site, Francis Mallmann spends his nights in the old hunting lodge located in the middle of the estate, long abandoned, which visitors sometimes take for a work of art. “Yes, this is my house!” I live there by candlelight, I don’t have electricity. But I have Ai Weiwei and Richard Rogers as neighbors. »

8 TIPS FROM FRANCIS MALLMANN

1. BEFORE YOU START “Make sure you have everything you’re going to need around you, because you can’t take your eyes off the fire for five minutes. »

2. THE PERFECT STEAK “When you place a steak on a hot surface, it sticks to it. So I wait six minutes, that’s how long it forms a crispy layer, then I turn it over for the last three minutes. »

3. NEVER TOUCH THE MEAT! “You have to respect the first contact of the products on the grill or on the plancha. Check the cooking all the time by touching it, it damages it. The meat is only turned once. »

4. THE IDEAL ACCOMPANIMENT “In Argentina, the meat is served with a chimichurri: olive oil, a very good red wine vinegar, a little salted water, garlic, oregano, parsley and peppers chopped. We let the elements marinate together for at least six hours, so that they become friends. »

5. USING YOUR HANDS “I try to use the knife as little as possible, and do everything I can with my bare hands. All fruits and vegetables, I break them with my hand. It’s much better for cooking. »

6. CELEBRATE THE POTATO “It is one of the most beautiful products in the kitchen. It adapts and changes according to cooking. I first boil it then I mash it by hand and finally I cook it on the griddle, slowly, in butter for two hours: you have to create a very crunchy, very thick and supple crust. time. »

7. USE THE NATURE AROUND YOU “I like Argentine wood, it produces red embers that can stay very hot for ten hours. But corn husks or pine cones are also perfect. »

8. ENJOY THE MOMENT ” Take your time. All it takes is a little patience, a good grill, good wood, a glass of wine, flowers and music. »

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