When we asked our Argentinian friends in preparation for our quest for authentic food in Argentina:
Who best represents authentic Argentine cuisine?
From whom can we learn more about authentic Argentine cuisine?
Who knows best about gaucho grilling?
The unanimous answer we got was: Francis Mallmann.
After reading about Francis Mallmann, and watching his videos about Argentina cuisine and cooking, we were hooked. Francis Mallmann’s personal story as a chef is truly inspiring. As the author of Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, we wanted to understand these unique grilling techniques in the country famously known for it’s beef.
In addition, his focus on authenticity and his return to Argentine cooking roots was another reason we wanted to connect with him.
Indeed for us, when we talk about Authentic Food Quest, we define it as: the search for real, simple and traditionally rooted food.
When we were in Buenos Aires, we decided to reach out to Francis Mallmann with a simple request for a conversation about Argentina cuisine and authentic food. We didn’t expect a quick response and were pleasantly surprised when Francis himself not only responded but also invited us to meet with him.
Four days later we were sitting at Patagonia Sur restaurant in La Boca, Buenos Aires, talking to Argentina’s most renowned Chef, Francis Mallmann.
Meeting Francis Mallmann at Patagonia Sur Restaurant
But before we dive into the heart of our discussion, let’s us take you to Patagonia Sur Restaurant in La Boca.
La Boca is a popular neighborhood located on the Southeast side of Buenos Aires where European immigrants originally settled. Today, it is a working-class neighborhood with patches of touristy attractions. Patagonia Sur is about one block away from the famous colored El Caminito street.
When we got to the restaurant, we were surprised to see that the outside was not the fancy superstar chef restaurant we expected. Instead, we found ourselves standing behind a closed black door at a nondescript building, waiting to go in for our meeting.
When we walked into the modern and rustic restaurant, we were surprised to see only one table set up. We looked around expecting to see additional tables around the corner and that’s when we learned that it is a one-table restaurant.
Francis told us that Patagonia Sur is a very intimate restaurant where a maximum of two or three tables can be set up for a meal. That day, there was only one elegant table set up for dinner that night.
Argentina Food Culture
We started our conversation by talking about the culture around food in Argentina. Francis told us “one of the biggest qualities of Argentinian life is the time we have we invest in sharing meals with family and friends. Lunch is important. Dinner is important and you sit down for lunch and you sit down for dinner. And you talk and after lunch or dinner you spend an hour talking about something.
People very seldom eat in their car or standing up in the rush to the office. We still have that sort of tribute to eating where we sit with napkins. Doesn’t matter if it is luxurious or simple, whatever it is.”
But the biggest quality of Argentina for me is that feeling of sharing a meal. And that is the true reason to eat and drink something delicious. Is to share. For me it is the only reason.
Food is about enjoying delicious food and wine. And talking to your pairs, friends, lovers, whoever they are and having a nice conversation.
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Francis Mallmann On Fire: Cooking and The Seven Fires
Given that Argentina is famous for its beef, we asked Francis to share with us his world-renowned approach to cooking with the fire and the Argentinian grilling experience.
Francis was very humble and told us, “I didn’t invent anything. I just took up the tools of the gauchos and the natives. I improved some things, but I didn’t invent any recipes. Everything I know and do is in my collective memory from birth or before that.”
I can’t take the flag of fire. I like it and use it It’s a great language its romantic. It’s not mine. No! There are many people doing it and I think we are on a very nice path.”
We went on to discuss the future of cooking. From the point of view of Francis, he expects to see a return of authenticity in cooking.
“The future for authenticity and a return to traditional roots is on the horizon, and we are making a comeback. Every country has to explore and go back to its roots and mirror those images back to its people through its cooking.”
[Tweet “The future for authenticity and a return to traditional roots is on the horizon.”]
Argentina Foods Not To Miss
In addition to discussing Argentine cuisine, we took the opportunity to also discuss the Argentine specialties not to miss. This conversation with Francis helped shape our itinerary for our quest for authentic food in Argentina.
“We have incredible fish in the Atlantic ocean. But we don’t have the culture of transport. […] So that’s very sad because we have incredible resources on the Atlantic ocean. […]
“One of the biggest beauties are our fruits and vegetable that grow in the high altitudes of the Andes. The pumpkins, peaches, plums that grow at that altitude.They struggle to survive and concentrate a lot of taste because of that. You look at them they don’t look nice but they are delicious. I love all these altitude fruits and vegetables […] very very tasty.”
“Then we have good lamb in the south and the Andes. In the north we have incredible goat. Good potatoes.Try peppers dried in the sun. Don’t miss the humitas and empanadas. Every province has a different variety.”
Our conversation left us fueled with a desire to experience gaucho grilling and visit the Andes where the vegetables and fruits struggle to survive. After leaving Buenos Aires, our first stop was Mendoza where thanks to Francis, we had the opportunity to experience the seven fires at The Vines of Mendoza.
We met with Francis Mallmann shortly after Netflix portrayed Argentina’s top chef on Chef’s Table. Coincidentally, stars started popping up at Patagonia Sur Restaurant in Buenos Aires, after we met with him. It was funny to receive articles and photos, from our Argentinian friends, of Francis Mallmann with stars like Katy Perry and Gwyneth Paltrow.
We ended up watching the show several months later. If you haven’t done so, we highly recommend watching the Francis Mallmann episode on Chef’s Table. More than a Chef’s show, this episode is very inspirational. It conveys Francis Mallmann’s personality and connection to food and nature. Watching the show took us back to our meeting and our memories of Mallmann’s passion about Argentine cuisine and cooking.
Enjoyed reading this article? Read more about the authentic foods in Argentina we discovered in our Amazon Bestseller book: Authentic Food Quest Argentina: A Guide to Eat Your Way Authentically Through Argentina. Available NOW on Amazon Kindle.
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Claire is a culinary explorer and the engineer brain behind Authentic Food Quest. Together with her partner, Rosemary, they created Authentic Food Quest to inspire people to travel deeper through authentic food. Through food, they believe, people can have more meaningful connections on their travels. Take the quiz and find out your Food Traveler Profile.