It

Esquire (Singapore) - - Travel -

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

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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.

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