Argentina’s Star Chef Francis Mallmann: Cooking Class at Central Market
For the last few days, Central Market stores have been profiling all things culinary from Argentina.
Cooking classes, special foods, grilled meats, cookbooks. It’s all there.
Famed Argentine chef Francis Mallmann was the headliner at last week’s cooking class at the Dallas Central Market. Mallmann’s newest cookbook, Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, won the 2010 James Beard Award for cookbook photography, and no one who’s seen the book is surprised.
I counted about 150 people in the audience for Mallmann’s CM class, which was held under a big
tent near the store’s patio. From a stage at the front, Mallmann, dressed in jeans and a blazer despite oppressive heat and humidity, lectured the group on the different regions and cooking styles of his home country. His approach to cooking values local ingredients and seasonal cooking. Novel, right?
“I don’t believe in harmony” on the plate or in food-and-wine parinings, he told the crowd. “I think it’s boring.”
Instead, said the chef, “extremes are important. Something smooth needs something crunchy” to maximize flavors and taste.
“The world has changed to become a place where chefs have become too important…too arrogant,” Mallmann said, adding that the focus of food and wine should be on enhancing conversation and friendship rather than promoting a chef’s talents.
While Mallmann talked, CM chefs were busy grilling and plating behind the stage. Mallmann’s first course was salmon encased in a salt crust then baked in the ashes of a hot fire, a technique Mallmann called cooking “in a little hell.” Baking the fish this way results in incomparably moist meat, since the steam released as the fish cooks is trapped inside a hard crust that forms as the heat and moisture combine with the salt crystals. To serve, Mallmann broke the salt crust into shards by hand then scooped out the fish.
But the best dish of the night was the slow-cooked lamb with grilled potatoes, arugula and roasted almonds. Mallmann roasted the lamb for about seven hours over coals, then plated the meat over crispy, crusty potatoes that had been baked, chopped, and fried like skillet potatoes.
To the mix, Mallmann added arugula and roasted slivered almonds, then dressed the whole thing in what cheesemaker and bon vivant Paula Lambert and I thought was a lemon vinaigrette. (The dish is not listed in Mallmann’s cookbook, though his lemon vinaigrette is.)
Mallmann’s Lemon Vinaigrette:
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, dissolved in 1 teaspoon boiling water
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Here’s the menu: