If you ever have the great pleasure of witnessing one of chef Francis Mallmann’s ‘fire domes,’ you will sense time slowing down. The dome he created in Los Angeles recently was erected in the early dawn hours, supported enormous cuts of beef that would cook for 10 hours, small chickens that would hang over the open fire for 6 hours, and was decorated with huge rows of rolled veggies and bright yellow pineapples. Francis Mallmann was in town returning as a guest chef in Wolfgang Puck’s new annual summer barbecue series at the Hotel Bel-Air. “I have big respect [for Puck]. I’ve always admired his work. And he’s a silent man. I like that very much,” Mallmann shared with Humanity at the event. One thing that makes the famous Argentinean chef so intriguing is his dual-personality – on the one hand he champions silence and isolation, which was captured in his episode of Chef’s Table through scenes of his remote island in Patagonia where he essentially lives off the land. On the other hand, he is completely warm and buoyant, socializing with everyone on the lawn in his signature beret and bright red-rimmed eyeglasses.
Before the fire burned down, Humanity caught up with the master of ‘cooking with fire’ to find out what he keeps in his kitchen, and his favorite haunts in L.A.
On his favorite cooking tool:
A large stick—a stick that I would use to move the ambers. It’s probably nine feet long. I have a romance with that—standing by an open fire with a stick. Patience is very important when cooking with fire. You can’t be in a rush… You have to have time. And a stick is an incredibly good tool to cook with fire. And it is related to that—to move things slowly with a stick.
I love California. When I was 13, I fell in love with the hippie movement; the protests, the music. When I was 16, I moved to San Francisco and I stayed here for about two years. I made my way down from San Francisco down to La Jolla, working and doing different things. I wasn’t a chef yet. California is something really special to me. I love the coast, its very beautiful.
On what Americans can learn from Argentinian culture:
Taking time for lunch. Sitting down for lunch, having a glass of wine—not 2 or 3, one. Talking. And staying after lunch for thirty minutes, having a chat with friends, lovers, family. I think lunch is one of the most beautiful things to share, and I tend to see people always in a rush for lunch here. I like to sit down and have a nice lunch.
On the evolution of cooking:
I’ve been cooking with fires… for a very long time and I have a feeling that I know a lot about it, but it’s also like I’m just starting, really. It’s this beautiful vertigo everytime I cook and I’m always thinking about new things. I’m always learning, but as you grow older you start to feel like you can’t embrace too many things in your life, so I’m very picky now. I choose wisely what I do with my spare time. I’m starting to feel that I’m quite often reinventing myself.
On social media:
I feel that social media is a very nice way to communicate with people who like what we do and what we’re doing. I do all my social media myself. I enjoy it. I especially do a little bit of Twitter and Instagram.
On his most memorable meal:
All the meals related to love. There are quite a few.
On the arts:
Music and food hold hands. Life holds hands with everything. Food is such a cultural thing that’s related to fashion, to music, to colors, to painting, to sculpture, to cities… I haven’t been a good student. I never went to university. So university for me has been movies. I would watch every morning. I would say everything I know, I learned from movies.