“I like contradictions. I want the food and wine in my mouth to fight to see which is better. "
On a secret island in Patagonia you will find the most distant cooking school in the world - the romantic escape of the popular South American chef Francis Mallmann, a meat-smoking nomad who quotes poetry and has grilled for David Beckham and the King of Spain.
Mallmann is the most popular chef in South America and has seven restaurants across the continent, including his now famous rural retreat in Garzón, Uruguay. He moved from José Ignacio, the former fishing village where he opened Los Negros, to a tiny, dusty village. Opened a tiny restaurant that eventually drew a downright loyal group of Hollywood actors, models, and other celebrities.
La Isla is probably one of the most remote places in the world. The journey to Lago La Plata is long and bumpy. With a flight from Buenos Aires to the rather gloomy Comodoro Rivadavia - a port city on the Gulf of San Jorge - followed by a five-hour drive on dirt roads past endless ranches of lazy, grazing cattle and eagle-eyed eagles. Then it's an hour of mud across the ice-cold lake to Mallmann's private retreat. A pilgrimage to a Mecca for gourmets, to meet a kind of God, and with the hope of not being disappointed by reality.
Mallmann first came to Lago La Plata 30 years ago. He and his girlfriend had camped in tents on the shore of the lake on the beach. The following year it rained for two weeks and he considered building a hut. It's a wonderfully remote place and he wanted to come more often, not just when the weather was nice. For a cabin, La Soplada is unexpectedly comfortable and devilishly detailed. Mallmann wanted to achieve the “simplicity of elegance”.
The three bright bedrooms in La Soplada are cluttered with thick duvets and there are tubs and bath sheets suitable for a giant. The entrance hall is teeming with hats, axes and fishing rods. The kitchen has an impressive collection of handcrafted Astier de Villatte porcelain, as well as a simple bowl of lemons.
Patagonia is Mallmann's home. Despite the houses everywhere he has a restaurant: in Buenos Aires and Mendoza, Uruguay, Chile, southern France and Miami. He was born in Buenos Aires and grew up in Bariloche, where his father, a physicist, ran the Balseiro Institute's atomic research center. Mallmann left school and home at the age of 13. A difficult relationship with his parents shaped this time.
The teenager Mallmann worked as a DJ at a Patagonia nightclub and slept in a small room above. At 16, he moved to the music scene in California, where he did odd jobs as a carpenter, pest controller, and gardener before opening his first restaurant at the age of 18. He later moved to Paris, where he worked his way in three Michelin-starred kitchens, before moving to Argentina, where he became known for his classic French dishes.
Then, when he was 40 years old, he suddenly realized it was time for a change. He began to remember the fires of his childhood. They were so big in him. And then he started to find his own voice, a kind of stream of consciousness with fire. Now, just a few times a year, Mallmann accepts paying guests who want to find out about the hot stuff.
Today Mallmann works with a team of seven, including three “gypsy cooks”, as he calls them, a butler, a forest worker and an engineer. They follow their leader like Myrmidons. But the respect goes both ways. It is owed and earned. Cooking is a craft for Mallmann, but the service and the associated scenery are among the most beautiful arts there is.,
It is precisely this combination of delicious food and staging that has raised him from a chef to a culinary rock star.