At first glance, Francis Mallmann’s book “Seven Fires” could be just another book about grilling meat over an open flame. But when you dig further and read about what fire means to the Argentines, you can’t help but fall in love.
Francis Mallmann spent his formative years as a culinary student working in some of the most famous restaurants in Europe, alongside the likes of Alain Senderens, chef of Paris’ Lucas Carton, which he now owns and has renamed Alain Senderens, and Roger Verge, owner of the acclaimed Moulin de Mougins in France. By the age of 40, as Mallmann says, “I was tired of making fancy French food for wealthy customers in Buenos Aires.” He abandoned fine dining and returned to his Argentine roots.
Seven fires refers to the seven cooking techniques that are the backbone of Mallmann’s cusine. They are all beautifully illustrated with photographs by Santiago Soto Monilor and many others, including Mallmann and co-author Peter Kaminsky.
The book has beautiful recipes such as “Tournedos Wrapped in Bacon and Sage,” or “Pork Tenderloin with Burnt Brown Sugar, Orange Confit and Thyme.” Mallmann likes the taste of burnt. He explains the appeal of creating a burnt taste but is quick to say that if you take “burning” too far, it is easy to destroy a dish. He draws a fine line.
Don’t miss any of the potato recipes, especially the “Smashed Potatoes with Tapenade Crust.” This is a simple recipe, complex in flavor but easy and fun to make. I can’t wait to make the “Potato Dominoes,” stacked potato squares arranged in a dish so that they look like rows of fallen dominos. This recipe is sure to be a showstopper at your next dinner party.
Some of Mallmann’s recipes are for the hardy. Check out his Sunday Asado, a four-page guide to what essentially is an enormous meat and vegetable lunch, cooked all day for family and friends, with everyone involved from gathering the ingredients to offering varied opinions of how hot the coals need to be. Don’t be nervous, though, because those four pages guide you what to do hour by hour. Daunting, yes, but for those who love a challenge, it’s a fantastic feast.
“Seven Fires” is a dense book rich with history of Argentine traditions. It is one of those books you’ll pick up again and again and discover something new each time.
Mallmann has written a beautiful volume that would be welcome in anyone’s library.