is fitting that you have to venture so far off the grid to get to Francis Mallmann. He is a man whose approach to cooking and living feels like an homage to a forgotten time and place. While many of the most influential chefs around the world have engaged in an escalating competition to be cast as creative and forward-thinking leaders in gastronomy, Mallmann has swerved in the opposite direction, forsaking the trappings of haute cuisine and focusing instead on a primal style of hospitality whose core comes down to one-syllable words: smoke, fire, air, stone, salt, rain, meat, wine. He runs nine restaurants around the world, mostly in South America and also in France and Miami Beach, but unlike Massimo Bottura, Daniel Humm, or René Redzepi, Mallmann is not associated with the visionary menu of one particular establishment. He is known for being Francis Mallmann, the Patagonian dandy who can put together a royal repast in a clearing in the forest, using little more than a few sticks tied together and a smoldering flame surrounded by stones. You can go to the restaurants and get a standardized rendition of Mallmannism, sure, but there’s no getting around the nagging feeling that if you want to experience the essence of his cooking or study fire at his elbow, as countless chefs have, you need to come to the island.
Like a lot of people, I developed a deeper interest in Mallmann—okay, maybe a bit of an obsession—after I watched the Chef ’s Table episode about him on Netflix in 2015. Shrouded in woodsmoke and striding around his Patagonian refuge like a deposed king, Mallmann, who turns 62 in January, came across as the protagonist of a robust, honest and highly complicated life. He, like Gregg Allman and Bob Marley, had fathered a multitude of offspring from an array of different relationships—six children, four mothers. The little girl frolicking about in scenes from Chef ’s Table turned out to be not his grandchild but his daughter Heloisa, whose mother is Vanina Chimeno, a chef in her 30s who had begun working in one of Mallmann’s kitchens when she was 19. (Chimeno and Mallmann got married in 2016.) Through- out the episode, Mallmann expressed no pretense of monogamy. There had been romantic entanglements in his past; he had no intention of reeling them in. He and Chimeno still live separately and both are free to stray as they wish.
He is, you might say, his own strange island. Even before the Chef ’s Table debut, Mallmann’s influence had been growing—almost in direct proportion to his desire to distance himself from the culinary upper crust and do his own thing. When you walk into an American restaurant these days and you see theatrically flickering flames, it’s a good guess that the chef can cite his most recent books, Seven Fires and Mallmann on Fire, as an inspiration. The Dabney in Washington, DC; Roister in Chicago; the Charter Oak in Napa Valley; Mettā in Brooklyn; Hartwood in Tulum, Mexico; Mallmann’s
1 Mallmann and wine, which he stores copious amounts of on the island. Chopped tomatoes and charred bread. Steaks cooking on a large cast-iron skillet called a plancha. Mallmann eats a steak every day, sometimes two. The writer (foreground left) enjoys a meal with Mallmann’s tight crew, which is made up of friends, his brother and training chefs.