When the Oklahoma Wine Forum 2011 opens in a couple of weeks, the star of the show will be wine. However, the guest chef is truly one of the culinary world's most inspiring minds. Francis Mallmann, whose fame in South America is in the Emeril Lagasse/Paula Deen realm, is that guest chef.
The theme for the forum is “Cowboys and Gauchos,” and if you're a fan of the methods of Grady Spears or Tom Perini, wait till you get a load of Mallmann.
Mallmann was featured on the Uruguay episode of Anthony Bourdain's “No Reservations” series on the Travel Channel. The Argentine chef has a home in Garzon, Uruguay. He hosts great feats of culinary barbarism, drawing flocks of hungry fans throughout the tourist season.
Last year, Mallmann — with friend Peter Kaminsky — wrote “Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way.” In the book, he explains how he rose to culinary prominence in Europe, eventually being invited to cook for The International Academy of Gastronomy.
At that seminal dinner, Mallmann served nothing but potatoes from South America, namely Peru. The dinner was a huge success. The inspiration for this devolved approach might've started with comment from the great Raymond Oliver, author of “La Cuisine,” for whom he'd apprenticed. Oliver, holding a letter Mallmann had sent him inquiring about the apprenticeship emblazoned with Mallmann's then motto: “La nouvelle cuisine,” asked his “little South American” what the value of “this idiotic ‘nouvelle cuisine'” was without a firm grasp of the heritage of culinary tradition.
The success of his potato feast emboldened Mallmann to return to his own country and embrace his mother tongue: Fire, from bonfire to dying embers. Gone were the architectural dishes and classic French sauces of Europe in favor of the flavors of South America.
In “Seven Fires,” Mallmann details life in Patagonia and growing up bound to fire not only for comfort but survival. He waxes poetic about “the taste of burnt,” culinary dissonance and life on the pampas — Argentina's grasslands, where cattle roam under the watchful eye of horse-mounted gauchos and to where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fled.
But this is no simple coffee-table book, this is an instruction manual for fire taming, steel fabrication, wood burning and food preparation.
When Mallmann arrives in Stillwater in early April, the intention is to build all seven of his fires to demonstrate his techniques. This will be a sight to behold.