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

“We often think that barbecue is a men’s business, 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, Latin American star and gastronomy legend, 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, television shows and even a Netflix documentary. Who better than him to upgrade our barbecues, the ultimate summer food ritual?

France: its inspiration

To meet Francis Mallmann, however, you have to go to Patagonia. There, at the end of an earthen path, 160 kilometers long, we reach a lake, which we cross to reach the small wild island where he settled, cut off from everything, facing the mountains which border the Chilean border. . The chef was born here, in a house where the heating, the hot water, the cooking… everything ran 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 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 in which he was trained by the best chefs in the country. Yet something is wrong. He loves France, passionately. But he is not French. This kitchen is not his. “I had to find something that was mine. I thought back to the feelings of my childhood, and I started setting fires in 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 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 (with a flame, in embers, in a cauldron, on the grill, etc.), as well as around ten fire powers, 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 build a fire and, perhaps, a chain above for string cooking. There’s nothing better than string-cooked chicken, 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 like fish and lamb”. “France has been very generous with me,” he explains with a touch of emotion. Coming back with a small restaurant was a silent joy in my heart. » The “little restaurant” is, in fact, a spectacular place, sandwiched between a Daniel Buren play and a Calder mobile. In the hacienda-style courtyard, the chef has built, custom-made and according to his plans, an extraordinary metal dome around which the cooks work under the eyes of the customers. We cook there in the ashes, we smoke there, we grill there, we roast there: it’s 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 mistake for a work of art. “Yes, this is my house!” I live there lit by candles, I don’t have electricity. But I have Ai Weiwei and Richard Rogers for neighbors. »


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 put a steak on a hot surface, it sticks to it. So I wait six minutes, that’s the time it forms a crispy layer, then I turn it over for the last three minutes. »

3. Never touch the meat! “We must respect the first contact of the products on the grill or on the plancha. Check the cooking all the time by touching it, this will damage it. We only turn the meat once. »

4. The ideal accompaniment “In Argentina, we serve the meat with a chimichurri: olive oil, a very good red wine vinegar, a little salt water, garlic, oregano, parsley and chili peppers chopped. The elements are left to marinate together for at least six hours, so that they become friends. »

5. Use your hands “I try to use the knife as little as possible, and do as much as I can with my bare hands. I break all the fruits and vegetables 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 depending on the cooking. I first boil it then I crush it by hand and, finally, I cook it on the grill, slowly, in butter for two hours: I have to create a very crunchy, very thick, and supple crust. times. »

7. Use the nature around you “I like Argentine wood, it produces red embers that can stay very hot for ten hours. But corn cobs 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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