He’s a French-trained chef who returned to the rustic wood fire and cast iron cooking of his Argentinean forebears. He’s the author of one of the most influential books on wood fire cooking, Seven Fires (Artisan). If you’ve done any serious grill hopping in Argentina or Uruguay, you’ve probably heard of him, and if you haven’t, you should run, not walk, to your nearest bookstore to buy his latest book, Mallmann on Fire. We asked South America’s premier grill master to write this month’s guest blog.
A warm, sunny late afternoon should not be the only time you cook out of doors. Cold days, windy days, snowy days, rainy days, dark and cloudy days all have their charms and challenges to the builder of fires and the griller of food. Many chefs take pride and pleasure in making a meal with whatever ingredients are at hand. I am that way with fire and weather. Whatever weather the gods hurl my way, as long as I have wood or charcoal, a place to kindle a flame, and some way to expose ingredients to the heat of the fire, I know I can make a fine meal. The power of nature lies not only in beauty but also in adversity, and there are many lessons to be learned from bad weather. Those challenges can make you smile and draw you closer to your friends and family.
More than any weather, snow is a language I understand. Whenever I see a snowstorm rumbling down from the Andes toward my home in Patagonia, I am transported back to my childhood. I can’t sit still. But then when the blizzard starts and I feel we are going to get at least six feet of snow (no kidding), I relax. Inevitably, my thoughts turn to my next cookout in the snow. It is both a challenge and a pleasure.
To cook in the snow, you should load up a sled with dry wood, pots and pans, food and wine, and a duffel bag and warm blankets. Pick a fire site and tamp down the snow all around so that it is firm enough to walk on, then lay down a piece of sheet metal or some heavy logs and build your fire on top of that base. If you build a fire directly on the snow, it will melt away and the water will put out the fire before you can cook. Remember that when you are cooking out of doors, the weather can affect temperature and timing. Wind can blow heat away from the coals or can cause the coals to burn more intensely. Ambient air temperature also comes into play. Things often take longer to cook on cold days.
I like to make a hearty soup in a cast-iron cauldron when I’m out in the snow, like my Braised Chorizo with Carrots, Fennel, and Creamy Polenta. Cooking outdoors can be a good reminder that you don’t need an expensive barbecue grill that looks like the command console of a space station. A simple grate propped up on rocks over a fire on the ground is all that fifteen generations of gauchos have used to turn out their grilled masterpieces. Wherever and whenever you can make a fire, you can make a meal.
Adapted from Mallmann on Fire by Francis Mallmann (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Santiago Soto Monllor.
Francis Mallmann is the reigning star of food television in the Spanish-speaking world and the most famous and popular chef in South America. His first book, Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way (Artisan Books, 2009), introduced readers to the secrets and flavors of traditional live-fire cooking. He has three restaurants: one in Mendoza, Argentina’s wine country; another in the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires; and the third in the picturesque village of Garzón, Uruguay. USA Today and The Times (U.K.) have named his restaurants among the top ten places to eat in the world. His new book is Mallmann on Fire (Artisan Books, 2014).
Also check out the cast iron plancha, one of Mallmann’s favorite grilling tools.