Patagonia

Francis Mallmann — Maestranza. Chef’s Table, V.1 E.3

by | Chef's Table Guide, Series At The Stern | 2 comments

Let me preface my explanation of this episode with a big forewarning. The subject of today’s episode, Argentinian chef Francis Mallmann (yeah, his family is clearly not Argentinian in origin), rubbed me the wrong way. This has happened before in Chef’s Table, though never, I think, to quite this extent. Something about this man and his general attitude really got to me. But I will try to present this as straightforwardly as humanly possible. 

First, a note — you can find all the entries in this guide in the Chef’s Table archives. The last episode featured farm-to-table star Dan Barber.

 

FRANCIS MALLMANN’S BEGINNINGS

Born in Buenos Aires, Francis’s family relocated to remote Patagonia — at the very southern tip of Argentina — for his father’s work. Maybe this is the example Francis was going after when he forcibly relocated his kids to the hill country after deciding his soul wasn’t in his long-time restaurant anymore. Okay, I’ll cut the sarcasm.

Pretty early on, Francis fell in love with a “romantic” lifestyle completely free of obligation and commitment. He moved to France to pursue cooking and found work in various three star restaurants. 

Eventually, Francis returned to Patagonia and set up shop cooking fancy French food for rich Argentines. When he had a chance to serve the head of Cartier, the jewelry company, the ostensibly French head told him he wasn’t actually serving French food — that he was doing the wrong thing. 

Francis decided the man was right. And he embarked on a quest to begin showcasing Patagonian ingredients and the traditional Patagonian methods of cooking. 

Above: Several dishes created by Francis Mallmann.

You’re probably wondering why this man rubbed me the wrong way. Because it sounds pretty same-old same-old so far. But…

… Mr. Mallmann professes to love the wilderness. And, truth be told, it seems he does love the wilderness. At the same time, he spouted these lines: “I’m getting on a plane five or six times a week. It’s like a rush for me.” My good man, you may love the wilderness, but you clearly don’t care about it. 

Similarly, to his little daughter Heloisa: “I wish she’d never grow up. I spend 10 days a month with her and her mother, which is wonderful.” 

If you were wondering, she’s his sixth child by God knows how many women. I don’t technically have a problem with that sort of behavior, except for how callous he seems about it. It’s not that Francis Mallmann doesn’t care about nature or about his children. It’s that he’s made the conscious decision to prioritize himself and his “dream” above them. 

And what does this dream boil down to, really? Just doing everything exactly the way he wants to do it, with utter disregard to the people in his life, to the world, or to humanity. 

Below, two pictures of Patagonia. Which is a beautiful place. 

Now, Francis Mallmann and I are not as different as you might think…

But we have very different worldviews. While I believe in individual freedom and in a person’s right to do as they choose without worrying about what others think, I also believe that hardship is good for an individual, and that people should sometimes have to do things they don’t want to do. They should sometimes subject themselves to doing things they don’t want to do, in order to learn something about the world and about themselves in the process. This is my view. Mallmann holds a different view. This is okay. But while he may someday be remembered as a very interesting man and a very good chef, I highly doubt anyone will remember him as a great man. He fails to do the thing that makes people great. He fails to transcend himself and his desires. 

Sorry about the rant. But I found some of this man’s behavior so heinous — in my eyes, of course, everyone’s entitled to a different opinion — that I couldn’t hold myself back. In the end, all I’m saying is that I, personally, would never want to live in the way he does. At a certain point, when you chase and chase and chase what you see as freedom, it disintegrates before your eyes and becomes fake, because you’ve been searching too hard. Freedom is very important. But it’s not something that’s sought out. It’s something that is, more often than not, stumbled upon in the process of struggle. 

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