That rekindled interest in cooking with fire has seen Mallmann’s expertise much in demand, both as an author with his new book, and as a teacher. The chef wants students to learn about fire and to understand its idiosyncrasies. It begins with watching the flames.
“When I give a cooking class with fire, the first thing I do is I make a circle of chairs and I make a huge fire in the middle and I get the student to look at the fire for four hours until it becomes ashes,” he says. ”I tell them, now write your impressions about what you have seen, what happens with the fire. That will start making them understand what the fire is."
“That’s why that silent language of the fire is so important. You’re standing outside and you’re watching, how the lamb is dripping, what’s happening with the rib-eye, what’s happening with the fish and the movement on top of the ashes, what’s happening with the vegetable in the coals"
When we think of cooking with fire, we automatically think of meat, of barbecue and pit masters. We tend to overlook the rich history of plant-based cooking over the flame. Vegetables are transformed by fire, and Mallmann’s new book is a well-timed wealth of knowledge on the subject.
“When I decided to write this book I didn’t want to elaborate new techniques for cooking vegetables with fire. I just thought I would just embrace everything I do, very simply, all the vegetables and fruits with the techniques that I already use, about seven or eight techniques.”
Of all the fruit and vegetables that Mallmann cooks with on the fire, is there one ingredient that continues to surprise him?
“Potatoes always surprise me, they are so ductile, they hug you, whatever way you want, with the humidity, with the possibilities of crust – are you cooking with butter are you cooking with oil, are you cooking in the ashes, are you grilling? Potatoes are incredible."
“I don’t think I invented anything, but the more I cook with fire, the more I realise, I’m still learning. I have a good base, I know what I’m doing with fire, but there are always new windows where you are learning new things, it’s extraordinary. It fills me with hope."
“Being around a fire cooking, it’s a celebration of happiness. Everybody’s happy. I don’t want to cook in a kitchen anymore.”