Mallmann On Fire
Francis Mallmann with Peter Kaminski and Donna Gelb
Principal photography by Santiago Soto Monllor
Artisan Books, October 2014
Francis Mallmann is definitely on fire. His first book, Seven Fires, was a 2010 IACP* Cookbook Award finalist and a James Beard Award winner. Mallmann appears on his new book’s dust jacket looking as though his poncho is alight – “on fire” figuratively and literally.
Part travelogue, part cookbook, On Fire, written with Peter Kaminski and Donna Gelb, is packed with beautiful photos, many from Patagonia, located at the very tip of South America. Born of a Uruguayan mother in Argentina, Mallmann grew up in the town of Bariloche in Patagonia. He has lived in the USA, France and Italy but calls Patagonia his home.
For this book Mallmann took his portable grill on his travels, anticipating that new lands and ingredients discovered along the way would inspire his creativity. He also wanted to broadcast his message for people to get out and get active.
We learn why he favors cast-iron grills and griddles and wood-fired ovens, though he acknowledges that a cast-iron pan used on the stove indoors or that a conventional oven will also work with his recipes. Some recipes actually require only embers and ashes from a fire pit or a home fireplace. He prefers hardwood lump charcoal for its convenience, rather than raw wood, but never uses charcoal briquettes, which he deems “nasty.” His first book inspired me to acquire a Tuscan grill and try using raw wood for fuel. My results were very good but it was a very hot and somewhat strenuous ground-level job, even with lots of help from my resident former Boy Scout. We now mostly use lump charcoal and a vintage Weber grill.
The food photography is beautiful and inspiring; photographer Santiago Soto Monllor won the James Beard award, Photography category, for Mallmann’s Seven Fires. Almost all of the recipes have inspiring photos and the occasional process shot to illustrate a recipe step.
Mallmann clearly enjoys cooking for a crowd. There are lovely shots from feasts attended by dozens in various al fresco scenarios. He is
shown on the streets of Paris with his portable grill-cum-pushcart, and at his seaside hideaway on the windswept Atlantic coast in Patagonia near to where penguins and seals frolic. More photos from charming Garzón, Uruguay — the rural setting for one of his restaurants — and the tropical splendor of Trancoso, Brazil, keep you turning pages, enthralled. I found the recipes to be well written and uncomplicated to prepare.
Chicken Livers a la Plancha in Charred Endive, a quick griddled recipe, had maximum flavor without fuss; who knew chicken livers could pair with bitter-ish greens and mustard? I liked the versatile garnish, too: a fresh herb “butter” made by chilling extra virgin olive oil with one’s choice of herb.
Mallmann’s simple Beet and Orange Salad with Arugula shines with accents of thyme and feta cheese which complement the earthy beets and arugula perfectly. Smashed Chicken Breast in a Potato Crust with Tomato and Arugula Salad, a riff on Pommes Anna, presents like gourmet fare and is worth a bit of extra attention and temperature adjustments to achieve golden brown perfection. Less successful was the scone recipe, which affirmed my suspicion that this is a cook’s book, not a baker’s; the scones were dry and uninteresting even with butter and jam.
Other chapters cover appetizers and salads, light meals, beef, lamb and pork, birds, fish and shellfish, vegetables and beans, desserts, country breads and basics. At the very end of the book the authors list ‘Some Important Tools’ including a schematic for a portable grill of Mallmann’s own design.
Mallmann is a generous coach whose passion for cooking and love of the outdoors have given us recipes and wonderful photography that beckon the mind to explore.
*International Association of Culinary Professionals
First published December 2014