Chef’s Table: Francis Mallman

The Francis Mallman episode is the first I watched of Chef’s Table. And it remains my favorite.

The opening is killer: he’s cooking fish on a make-shift coal grill on a boat.

And you can skip the trailer — the beginning of the doc is way better. So just start watching. Trust me.

I picked”Chef’s Table” as the best doc on chefs in my 18 Best Chef Documentaries list (ranked).

Thanks to real estate man Sean McCallum (who commits to mastering one new dish every year!) for the tip on Francis.

Trailer for Francis Mallman on Chef’s Table

Watch Francis Mallman on “Chef’s Table”

You can stream the Francis Mallman episode on Netflix at https://www.netflix.com/watch/80007948 (it’s Season 1, Episode 3).

Chef’s Table is a Netflix Original so this episode should be here to stay!

Ratings:

  • My Rating: 96/100
  • IMDB Rating: 8.2/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Ratings: the episode doesn’t get a rating but Chef’s Table gets an RT user score of 85% and Season 1 (Francis Mallman is S1 E3) gets a user rating of 95%.

Review of Chef’s Table: Francis Mallman

I love this 49 minute profile of Chef Francis Mallman. It’s not just about a chef or cooking.

Mallman’s cooking philosophy intertwines with his personal ethos of freedom and living authentically.

Warning: you might want to bail on your job and live on a remote island in Patagonia after this.

Francis is a scruffy 62-year-old Argentine guy in a beret, cooking with bonfires in the middle of the Patagonian wilderness.

Francis’s story is awesome.

He chucked fine dining (Michelin star restaurants!) out the window (or perhaps into the fire) and went back to the most elemental way of cooking – with flames and embers and smoke under the open sky.

This is all from Season 1, Episode 3 of Netflix’s Chef’s Table documentary series, released April 26, 2015. Clay Jeter directs.

Francis is a fascinating character.

He’s like some sort of rugged culinary poet of the pampas.

With his signature burgundy beret, neckerchief, and nonchalant air, he looks more like he should be playing guitar alongside Mercedes Sosa than running some of Argentina’s most renowned restaurants.

He’s headed up such eateries as Patagonia Sur in Buenos Aires and Siete Fuegos in Mendoza.

And that’s after training in the temples of three-Michelin-starred French cuisine like Troisgros in Roanne as a young chef in the 1970s.

The “Aha” Moment

Mallman decided it was all “BS” and retreated to a tiny island in the La Plata river in 1980 to grill meat over wood fires.

It was his “aha” moment — he shifts from trying to perfect French cuisine to embracing his roots. He’s gonna focus on Argentine ingredients and methods!

And one new core to his cooking is that a flame has to be underneath it.

As only the philosophical Mallman could put it:

“When you cook with fire it’s a bit like making love. It can be huge and strong. Or it could go slowly like ashes and coal.”

Shouldn’t this be how we all cook?

The things Mallman does with fire defy belief.

He butterflies whole 12-pound lambs and impales them crucifixion-style on giant iron crosses to slow roast for 8 hours.

He submerges pans of vegetables like Andean potatoes, pumpkin, and cabbage under burning embers.

He suspends 30-pound whole wild salmon from strings, twirling in the heat and smoke until the flesh glistens.

It’s utterly mad and absolutely brilliant.

His approach is more than just pyrotechnics though.

Mallman has a deep reverence for his ingredients, many of which come from the rugged landscape of his beloved Patagonia in southern Argentina.

He waxes poetic about the beauty of a simple potato, its skin burnished in the ashes.

“I believe that a potato has the same value as a piece of fish or a piece of meat,” he declares earnestly from his remote island kitchen on the La Plata river.

In Mallman’s world, there are no luxury ingredients, just honest food honored in its rustic simplicity.

This potato proselytizing takes place as Mallman prepares an insane feast in Garzón. That’s the remote village of just 200 residents in eastern Uruguay.

It’s a nine-hour, 12-course affair that he hosts each year for a lucky group of 50 friends and acolytes.

It’s an asado to end all asados, an open-fire bacchanalian blowout with every conceivable meat.

You get whole lamb, pork, and ribs, and vegetables slung across a stunning cliffside vista overlooking rolling hills.

I half-expected a resurrected Jim Morrison to show up.

Interwoven through these hypnotic slow-mo food porn sequences, we get Mallman’s reflections on his unique path.

He confesses a deep restlessness, a quest for solitude and meaning that led him to reject the trappings of conventional success.

At age 40, he walked away from his high-flying chef career in Buenos Aires and retreated to the remote island in the La Plata river delta,.

It’s where he now lives for months at a time with no electricity, cooking by fire.

It’s the classic story of the brilliant misfit, too wild to be contained by society’s structures.

But refreshingly, there’s no tortured artist cliché at play. Mallman seems at peace in his Kerouacian culinary wanderings.

Ultimately, the Francis Mallman episode of Chef’s Table leaves you with a serious hankering, and not just for flame-kissed steak.

It’s a desire to reconnect with something primal, tactile, elemental.

To step away from the gleaming surfaces of modernity and feel the heat of the fire on your face.

To revel in the rugged beauty of the Patagonian landscape and the honest pleasure of deeply unfussy food.

It’s enough to make you want to don a burgundy beret, build a bonfire on a remote island, and start hurling Andean potatoes into the flames.

Don’t think too hard about it.

Just surrender to the glorious madness that is Francis Mallman.

Worst case, you ruin some spuds.

Best case, you find yourself breaking bread around the fire with friends, Malbec in hand, feeling deeply connected to the old ways.

Others might prefer the high-tech culinary wizardry like Grant Achatz’s helium balloons and Heston Blumenthal’s liquid nitrogen ice cream.

But for me there’s something refreshingly punk rock about Mallman.

There’s a beauty seeing a master at work with bonfires and medieval-looking contraptions instead of immersion circulators and anti-griddles.

It’ll make you hungry, not just for the gutsy flavors of the open fire, but for a different way of being. Pass the Patagonian potatoes.

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc