Whoa! Just Whoa!
With each episode, Chefs Table has been taking us farther and farther down the rabbit hole of eccentricity. We had the frantic energy and nostalgic whimsy of Massimo. Next, we had the heady overbearing condescension of Dan Barber. With Francis Mallmann, I am not sure to believe that he is a genius or possibly a cult leader on the edge of becoming a serial killer. But in a good way.
Based out of Patagonia, Francis is known for his many books, restaurants and as a TV personality in South America. Classically trained and obviously well educated he is the picture of a sophisticated, intelligent, middle-aged man puffing on his cigars while cooking a solitary meal out in a boat. Then I laughed out loud as he sits back in the boat to eat and a man in waist-high waders tromps out into the water to bring him a fresh glass of wine.
This episode had me enthralled. This man should have disturbed and upset me just as much, if not more than Dan Barber did. He is very taken with himself, continually talks about the importance of self and the need to not be held down by any relationships. He keeps himself constantly on the move between his various restaurants and engagements. He describes how he needs the movement for inspiration and to live. He has a young baby with a much younger woman that he visits for about ten days out of every month. You have to take him as he is because he is going to just be himself.
I have used the word visceral to describe the other episodes. They cannot match up to the raw, primal personality of Mallmann’s creations. The unique voice he developed moving away from his French teachings, leans heavily on rustic contraptions and fire. If invited to one of his private island meals, you will find yourself treated to the vision of whole animal carcasses strewn up over a massive fire. Fish steamed inside of clay dredged from the surrounding lake, and charred delicacies left to bake away in underground pits throughout the day. His cadre of helpers are an ever growing and ever loyal group of gypsy chefs. Some of them bounding around to different places to assist him. All of them there to orbit his eccentric world.
I really wanted to not like him. He is a man with so many differences to my own personality and beliefs. And yet, I found myself drawn in and nodding as he crooned his philosophies about life, creation, and the sensual ecstasy infused into everything he does. One lovely philosophical quip he uses I do however adhere to and believe in strongly. In your life you find a master to learn from. You spend years learning and emulating the skills and techniques of your master. Then one day, the only way to learn and grow more, is to detach and find your own language. Otherwise, you will never move beyond the teachings of your master.
This eloquent genius of a chef may be cut from a different cloth than I am, but in the end, I was taken by his honesty. He is self-aware enough to know what he is and that his actions do affect others. He is also unapologetic except to say that he would expect no different from others when he moves beyond their company.