Chef's Table (2015–…): Season 1, Episode 3 - Francis Mallmann - full transcript

Argentine chef Francis Mallman combines his prestigious French culinary background with traditional Patagonian fire and earth cooking methods to create sensational dining experiences.

[Francis] I used to hitchhike
back home from school.

This man who had a beautiful car
would drive by,

so I waited for him.

I would sit in the back.
I was eight.

And there was always
a different lady by him.

One day after so much hitchhiking,
you know, one of the girls

said to me,
"Come home for tea."

And when I walked onto the deck,
there was these two ladies

taking sun naked.

And, you know, they said,
"Oh! Here you are.

What would you like to drink?"

You know, they didn't
cover themselves or--

You know, they were French.

And all those things
made me dream, you know,

that there was a very
free world somewhere.

So my big draw in life
since very young was freedom.

The freedom of believing only in myself

and not letting myself being,
you know, sort of, led by anybody.

I wanted to be my own.
I wanted to do whatever I wanted.

[chuckling and speaking Spanish]

[opening theme playing]

[Peter] A meal by Francis Mallmann,

whether it's a special event
that he does in the countryside

or it's in one of his restaurants,

starts with visual.

You enter it and you know
you're in some place that's been

orchestrated with a sensual eye.

You're set up with this beautiful,

art-directed scene,

and then, bam,

really powerful, strong flavors.

He really has perfect pitch

when it comes to taste, and ambience,

and how people want to be made to feel.

He's extremely romantic.

He likes color,

he likes lushness,
he likes strong, sensual experiences.

Francis is quite different
in that he's not defined by a restaurant.

He has a number of restaurants.

Every one of them is different.

Francis also does books.

He's done many of them
over the course of 30 years

and he's been on television all that time.

He's the biggest food star
in the Latin world.

His shows are set wherever
the will-o'-the-wisp takes him.

He really goes out into the wild,

into the far-flung places
to discover them

and have his audience
discover them with him.

[horn honking]

To get to Francis' island in Patagonia,

you drive 100 miles
down a dirt road.

Then you get to the shore of this lake

and the mountains
that rise on the other side.

And those mountains go up,

and if you would go down
the opposite slope, you'd be in Chile.

So it's the very end of Argentina.

And you get in an Avon,
an inflatable craft,

and you go an hour across the lake.

And then you get to this little island
in the middle of a lake.

There's no place more remote
that I've ever been on Earth.

The feeling of Patagonia, I feel,
is my deepest rooted feeling for home.

I arrived to Patagonia age seven,

and I fell in love with it.

It's a land that you learn
to love very slowly.

You start to understand
its winds, the storms...

the solitude.

And once you understand how she is,
you start to love her.

We lived in a faraway house in Patagonia

with my brothers and my family.

And our house was ruled by fire.

The heating of the water and the heating
system of the house was with fire

and that's a bit what we have
now here on this beautiful island.

It's going back
to those times of childhood.

I'm a cook that uses cooking
to send this message of a way of living.

I'm always cooking in remote places,
in the wild with fires.

So my message is get out of your chair,
of your sofa, of your office

and go out.

[Francis speaking Spanish]

[speaking Spanish]
Yes, right there

and right there,

and there.

[speaking English]
When you cook with fires,

when you build a fire,

it's a bit like making love.

It could be huge, strong.

Or it could grow very slowly
in ashes and little coals.

And that's the biggest beauty of fire.

It goes from zero to 10 in strength,

and in between zero and 10,

you have all these little peaks
and different ways of cooking with it

and it's very tender
and very fragile.

[men conversing in Spanish]

[Francis] Agustine,
are you doing all right?


[Francis] If anything happens,
just drop that shit, let it all burn.

[Agustine] Don't worry.

[Peter] Francis loves burned things.

Not carbonized, just burned,

so it's just got this wonderful,
what they call Maillard crust.

What would get you fired
in another restaurant,

will make Francis
fall in love with your technique.

[Francis] Whenever you grill
or you cook something in a griddle,

you have to be very respectful
of that first contact.

If this is a steak for me and I look at it

and I say, "Well, I'm gonna cook it
for nine minutes."

I'll put it there,
leave it there for six minutes

and then turn it for the last three,

because what happens is that,
when you put it in a surface which is hot,

the first thing it does,
it's gonna stick to it.

But slowly it will make this crusty layer

and you will be able to move
it without breaking it.

I don't believe in
flip-and-flopping food.

You have to respect what you cook.


When we cook outside for big parties,
I usually have a lot of staff.

I like to have a band of gypsy chefs.

We call it maestranza,
which is a beautiful word in Spanish.

Maestranza means
"the people who are around you helping."

It's very romantic.

Over the years, you create
a team that works with you,

who know you very well

and know what the dreams are.

We are a team that...

rolls constantly.

We are cooking here today,

next week we'll being cooking
in the street in New York.

There's an energy that rolls with us.

People from the outside
get attracted to it.

I don't like taking chefs
who have any experience.

We take young apprentices
in all the restaurants

who have never cooked anywhere

and we teach them.

So out of 10, there is one
who becomes a leader, the doer.

That's a spirit I like in my team.

I love the joy of working
with all the team.

I need to be happy with them.

There has to be a festive feeling
about the hard work we're doing.

[man speaking Spanish]
One of the things I like the most,

and I always tell Francis,

it's the possibility to work in fresh air.

Because we work in fresh air,

we have to work with the wind,

we have to work with the rain,

we have to work with the snow.

Francis has an energy to materialize

a person with ideas
that also accomplishes what he dreams.

[man] It has shown me
that practically nothing is impossible.

And that's why I would love
to continue working with him.

[woman laughing]

[Francis] We drank three
of these bottles already.

[Francis reading in English]
"Have you wandered in the wilderness,

have you galloped over the ranges,

have you roamed the arid
sun-lands through and through?

Have you chummed up with the mesa?

Do you know its moods and changes?

Then listen to the Wild,
it's calling you."

I was born in Buenos Aires
and we came to Patagonia

because my father was offered
a job in an atomic center.

He's a physicist.

That's where my childhood started,
in Bariloche, in the middle of Patagonia.

I got hit by this wave of music
when I was 13 and that changed my life.

One day, a family of Australian girls
moved into the school.

The four of them put
on a record of The Monkees,

and they started dancing
on top of a low table.

God, I never had seen that!
I never heard that music.

That was the first time I felt
in my blood, in my veins, in my soul

what was happening in the world.

After that music hit me
and that movement hit me,

that was the only thing
that interested me.

And I left school.

My dad didn't understand
very much at all, really,

the revolution that happened in the late
'60s and '70s with young people.

He just didn't understand
our long hairs, our flower shirts,

our striped pink pants,

our boots with heels.

He thought that this rock-and-roll thing
was a disaster.

He couldn't cope with it.

But I was very stubborn
about my freedom.

I was able to lie on my bed at night
and dream about what I wanted.

I knew that I was myself
and that I had to decide for myself.


There is a technique
in the province of Córdoba in Argentina

where you wrap a piece of meat
in really cream mud

and then you put it in a wood oven.

It's a very, very old
technique of cooking.

Here, if you go all around the lake,
you find this beautiful, beautiful clay.

I thought, "God, this clay must
be very good to cook a fish in it."

When the clay starts to get hot,
really hot,

the humidity of the fish
will try to leave that space,

but it can't because
it's completely encased.

So what you get is
a most beautiful steamed fish,

and I like to cook it slightly raw...

so it's not overdone.

There's nothing more sad
than an overcooked fish.

You can cook it longer
and it will just completely detach.

But I think that the beauty
is it's lukewarm

and it's cooked
but still attached to the bone

because you feel all the quality
of the fish when you eat it then.

When I started my first
restaurant on my own,

I was 19.

I was doing some recipes of Argentina.

And I had some books, you know,
I had some very good books on cooking

and I was always trying
to learn and that...

Mostly that was what
attracted me to France.

Everything I read was about France.

All the French recipes, the ingredients,
and the tarragon, and the Madeira wine,

things that were very difficult
for me to find in Patagonia,

but I started dreaming about them

and I wanted to go and touch them,
taste them and use them.

And I decide to go to France.

I thought that I would arrive in Paris
and I would knock on the door,

and somebody would say,
"Yes, please come in.

We're gonna teach you how to cook."

But I didn't achieve to work anywhere,

you know, I couldn't.
I couldn't get work anywhere.

And then I decided to write a letter

to all the three-star
restaurants in France,

which in that year it was...
There were 21 of them.

And incredibly enough
all of them answered.

Maybe many of them said no,
but many of them said yes.

And I started working
in all these three-star restaurants.

[Peter] Francis was very lucky

in the way he was able to parlay that

into working for some
of the greatest three-star chefs.

Working in the great
restaurants of France,

the thing that Francis
learned was technique.

Even though he uses these
very primitive methods of cooking,

the techniques are very much influenced
by the great French restaurants of Europe.

[Francis] It was
a very passionate love affair

with the culture of France and its food.

-[Heloisa mumbling]
-[Francis] Sí.

[Francis speaking Spanish]

[Vanina speaking Spanish]

Come here, Heloisa.

-Come, my love.

[answering in Spanish]

[Francis] Vanina,
with whom I have a daughter,

we don't live together.

We spend about 10 days
of the month together, which is very nice.

And we both love it.
We don't want to live together.

[Vanina speaking Spanish]

[Francis speaking Spanish]

Love is one of
the most difficult things in life.

Certainly the most beautiful one.

[speaking Spanish]
Don't let it go.

-[glasses clinking]
-[speaking Spanish]


Now we drink a little bit.


The smell...

delicious smell.

What does it smell like?
Does it smell like ass?

A loved ass? A healthy ass?

-"It smells like ass, Dad."
-Don't teach her that, I beg of you!


Again but with both--

[both laughing]

[Francis speaking English] It's difficult.
I think that living together...

it destroys passion.

And I hate all this thing
of the faithfulness.

Part of us, we are animals
in some sort of a way,

and there's a beauty in that.

It's not that, you know,
you have to be chasing girls all day round

and that you're always looking
to see what you find or...

It's not that. It's just the freedom
of loving, you know.

[all speaking Spanish]

[reading in French]

"I have dreamed of you so much
that you are no longer real.

Is there still time for me
to reach your breathing body,

to kiss your mouth and make

your dear voice come alive again?

I have dreamed of you so much
that my arms,

grown used to being
crossed on my chest

as I hugged your shadow,

would not bend
to the shape of your body,


[Francis speaking English]
I don't know where I live.

For the last 30 years,
I take...

an average of four
or five planes a week.

So I'm sitting on a plane, I'm changing
locations probably every two days.

It's just like a drug for me.

I need these constant changes

of structures, of people,
of ambiences, of languages.

They are very inspiring,
they're very romantic.

They make me breathe.

They make me tremble.

They make me live.


[speaking Spanish]
You like it?

Let me put some on your finger,
let's see your finger.

Eat it.

[speaking English]
Food started out in my life as an image...

when I was eight
and I was invited with my parents

to have lunch in a little restaurant
in Patagonia under a tree.

It was summertime,
and everybody was dressed up.

There was flowers on the table.

So that day,
I don't remember the food, really...

[people laughing]

...but the ambience of what was happening
really touched me. And...

I think I went into food
by the theater of it.

The flowers, the tables, the music,
the decor, the happiness.

[speaking Spanish]
Alex, do you want to look at this?

-[Alexia] Yes, where?
-On this couch.

Do you remember this?

Of course I remember.
Come on, let's see it.

[Alexia] My dad lives life differently
from a lot of people that I know.

We grew up doing campfires
by the moonlight,

he was playing the guitar to us
and cooking at the same time

and doing all sorts of different things
that other kids didn't do.

He's taught us to live with...

with very much freedom.

And that's just amazing.
He's very free.


[Heloisa mumbling]

[speaking Spanish] Princess!

How does Luna sleep?

Show me.

[Alexia speaking Spanish]


[Francis] I don't want her to grow up.

And she turns in her sleep?


How are you?

Alma, what are you drinking,
white or red?


[speaking English] I seldom invite people
to have lunch or dinner with me.

But they're really chosen

because I can't spend time
with people that I don't enjoy.

I can't do it anymore as theater.

I make choices,

and that's a beautiful thing
about growing up, learning to say no.

In a nice way, but you say no.

[indistinct conversations]

I have this friend of mine.

He was on the island, in fact,
30 years ago when we just started.

And we, you know, we parted.
We just went different ways in our lives.

Once he came back to me, he said,
"Francis, you don't like me anymore."

And I said,
"No, it's not that I don't like you.

We've chosen different styles of life.

I still have these beautiful souvenirs
of all the things we did together

and how close we were and so on.

But the truth is,
it's not that you bore me,

but I don't enjoy talking to you anymore.

And I don't want to fight with you,
but you know...

there's nothing in common
between your life and mine nowadays."

I would have never said that to him,
but he asked me.

So what could I say?
I said the truth.

But, you know, growing up
has a bit to do with that,

to be able to tell the truth,

to show who you are...

even if it hurts.

[conversing in Spanish]

[thanking in Spanish]

[Francis] With my team,

I hand them a torch and I say to them...

"It's lit. Keep it lit.
That's the only thing I want.

I won't be here every day
to see if it's lit, but take care of it."

[speaking Spanish]

Every person that works for you,

you have to let it go in the best moment.

When he and you
are at the happiest moment,

when he and you think
that you're doing your best,

they have to go.

[indistinct talking and laughter]

Because from there on,
there is only one way, which is down.

And if that person stays,
he says, you know,

"God, this is a comfortable chair,
I have a nice salary, good job,"

and from there he will get bored.

I think it's important that he goes on...

and somebody else will come up.

And that transfer of energy,
of power, of work,

makes a little difficult moment,

but then it passes
and new people grow up into it.

-[all] Salud!

[Peter] When he came back from France,

Francis was making fancy
French food for rich Argentines.

[Francis] I was quite arrogant
and I thought I was the best chef.

I was always with my huge white hat.

I would use caviar and salmon,
and I was so serious.

Then one day, the restaurant
was booked by the head of Cartier,

the jewel company,

a Frenchman.

The people sat, they dined, they laughed,

they talked, they drank.

And I was walking around the tables
after dinner in my whites with my hat.


With my hat.

And the head of Cartier got up
and he came up to me

and said,
"I would like to have a word with you."

So we went sort of on the side
and he said, you know, "Mr. Mallmann,

this was a really horrible meal.

And I think you have to think
what you're doing

because it wasn't quite right.

And I want to say this
in a nice way to you

because I see a lot of effort
in what you do,

but this was not French food."

I looked at him and I said,
"Sir, thank you very much."

But on my insides, I thought,

"This guy's," you know,
"He doesn't know what he's talking about.

He's not a chef.

He's French...
he does beautiful watches and jewels,

but, you know,
what does he know about cooking?"

So I went home to sleep with that,
and I never forgot it.

It was something heavy in me.

In time, I realized that he was right.
I wasn't doing the right thing.

I was just trying to copy exactly
everything I had learned.

And I think that that happens
in every craft in life.

You know, you're young,

you have a master,

you want to emulate him,
do what he does.

But at some point in life
you have to turn around

and say, "I have to find my own way,
my own language."

In 1995,

Francis received an invitation to cook for
the International Academy of Gastronomy,

which is the most prestigious
gastronomical organization in the world.

So this was a really big deal.

[Francis] I was 40.
I was going to be 40

when the president of the International
Academy of Gastronomy in Europe

says to me, "Would you like to come
and cook for the Academy in Germany?"

And they were giving this prize,
Le Grand Prix de l'Art de la Cuisine.

All my teachers in France
had won this prize, too.

So he says to me,
"What would you like to cook?"

And I say, "Well, I would like to make
an homage, a tribute to the Andes."

Potatoes are a symbol of the Andes.

It's one of the most
beautiful things, food-wise,

that South America gave to the world.

I decided to take potatoes
from South America to Germany.

We find out it was
impossible to take them.

So we decided to smuggle the potatoes.

We smuggled half a ton of potatoes
in our bags into Germany.

We were taken to this castle.

It's 27 academists.

They know their food,
they know their wine,

they're quite grown-ups,
all of them. I didn't know them.

And there were many rules
about this contest.

The maître d'hôtel comes to see me

and says, "Sir, would you like to
come and choose silverware?"

And I said, "No, no, no,
I don't want any silverware or flowers.

I'm gonna put 300 kilos of dirty potatoes
on the linen, in the middle of the table."

So he says to me,
"Ah, you can't do that here."

I said, "Well, yes, I will.

And I'm not gonna wash them,
they will have dirt as they came."

The table looked beautiful.

Imagine, all these potatoes
were red, violet, of all the colors.

And then we cooked
10 different dishes with potatoes.

Even the desserts had sweet potatoes.

And next morning,
there was a meeting of all the academists,

and after the meeting they came out
and said, "You have chosen...

You have been chosen
for this year prize of the Grand Prix."

I had achieved

the prize that all my teachers
in France had achieved.

I matched them.

But, you know, big prizes in life,
they make you happy and sad

because they make you question yourself.

They thought that I was going
to continue this path of excellence,

more trimmed and manicured cooking
as was happening then, and I didn't.

I just turned back on it
and I went the other way.

I said, "That was it."

I realized that I had to go back,

kneel down,
and pick up all those tools, memories

and adventures and experiences
from my childhood,

and recreate my cooking life
with all of that.

This is called curanto,

which is a native name for
cooking in a pit in southern Patagonia.

There are some traces of pits
like this that anthropologists found

that are 12,000 years old.

Instead of using cloth, they used a leaf

which is the size of this pit,
or bigger even.

It's like this, which is called nalka.

So they covered all the food with nalka,

and then they would bury everything
down and go on daily errands.

And there was not a trace
of smoke or anything,

so it was a hidden treasure of food.

Then they would come back at night to
open it and have very hot, delicious food.

The taste you get from this pit
in the vegetables is incredible

because they are extremely
moist and smoky.

I love cooking with pits like this.

So I came back to South America
from Germany to open a restaurant.

Los Negros...
Los Negros was a tiny restaurant.

That's when I started doing fire.

That's where I constructed
my first wood oven

and I started playing
with fire and iron and so on.

We had it for, like, I don't know,
maybe 20 years...

the property,

and the restaurant was open
for, like, 15 years.

And I always thought
I was gonna get married there.

[Francis] It was a love affair
with that tiny town,

that when I arrived there,
it had no road...

it had no water, no electricity.

And, you know, we started getting
all these very glamorous people.

It lost a bit of its mystery.

What happens in my work
is that Francis is still there working,

his name is there, his team is there,
but my soul is gone.

And I realized that slowly

and then I looked back and I said,
"God, I've left that place.

I better move on."

So I closed down Los Negros
and I just remained up there in the hills.

[Alexia] It was very, very sad.

I still think I didn't get over it yet,

and I don't go anymore.

I can't even go to the town anymore.

I mean, I go, but it's, uh...
it's very hard for me. Yes.

[speaking Spanish indistinctly]

I can't keep a restaurant
because my children are in love with it,

or I can't keep this home,
because I have to go on with my life.

I have to go on living and growing
and doing what I have to do.

Which is not a very easy life
to be adapted to as kids.

I'm a bit selfish because, you know,
I think it takes a toll on them.

You know?


My life has been a path
at the edge of uncertainty.

Today, I think we...

educate kids to be settled
in the comfortable chair.

You have your job,

you have your little car,

you have a place to sleep,
and the dreams are dead.

You don't grow on a secure path.

All of us should
conquer something in life...

and it needs a lot of work...

and it needs a lot of risk.

In order to grow and to improve,

you have to be there a bit
at the edge of uncertainty.

[reading] "There's a whisper
on the night-wind,

there's a star agleam to guide us,

and the Wild is calling, calling...

let us go."

[closing theme playing]