Central Market's cooking school often hosts celebrity guest chefs and authors. Such was the case on Tuesday evening when they hosted celebrity chef Francis Mallman -- Argentina's most famous chef -- for a cooking class and book signing.
Mallman's class featured five recipes from his newest cookbook, Mallman On Fire, progressing from a simple beet and orange salad with arugula and feta, to an appetizer of griddled Bartlett pears with aged comte and romaine lettuce, to the most difficult (but also delicious) main courses -- a duo of smashed chicken breast in a potato crust with tomato and arugula salad, and a gratin of potatoes with emmental wrapped in ham and serve with a fried quail egg, followed by a simple dessert of pressed pears and plums in red wine with rosemary.
The premise of Mallman's book, a sequel to his highly successful "Seven Fires," is that cooking on the open fire can be achieved with little more than a small portable grill, good wooden coals (he recommends mesquite in the United States), and a wide open dirt space where one can build a fire. "I take my grill, baptized in Patagonian fire, wherever I go," he says in a passage entitled "My Fires." The book captures some beautiful pictures of him cooking in places like Brooklyn, where he grilled steak, then made a sandwich on an embankment at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. Other pictures feature mouthwatering close-ups of food, or capture Mallman sitting in front of a fire on a wide flat desert plane somewhere in the desert or Argentinian pampas in the middle of winter. It is beautifully photographed, the recipes opening with a simple anecdote or intro, followed by clear, concise recipes.
Asked which of his recipes were personal favorites, Mallman cited his recipe for cooking flatbread over really hot coals. "If the coals are really hot, the flatbread will cook nicely for 1.5 minutes on each side. I then serve it with a salad of orange cooked in ashes," he says. He also cited his recipe for cooking lamb shanks suspended on strings, cooked for several hours over an open dirt fire. The photographs are almost unbelievable for this recipe, where the art of cooking is clearly evident.
Mallman gave his introductory talk while Central Market chef Michael Miles and his team plated courses and demonstrated how to the make the dishes. The most intricate dish to make was also the most satisfying. For the smashed chicken breast dish, we watched the Central Market chef pound a chicken, make a potato cake covering by slicing potatoes with a mandoline slicer, and expertly prepare the chicken while Mallman looked on.
The dish was served side-by-side with a gratin of potatoes laced with fresh truffle -- the highlight of all the dishes served, creamy and silky, yet firm and full of flavor. Mallman is nothing if not a master of potatoes. I've had the pleasure of dining at his famed restaurant 1884, in Mendoza, Argentina, on more than one occasion, and while the meat is definitely king there, his potatoes are always extraordinary. From his book, he recounts one of the times he used this exact recipe: "In France, I set up my traveling grill outside the Palais Royal in Paris and, using a clay pot, prepared my gratin with ham and truffles."
Central Market always does these classes in style. Attendees not only got to see how the dishes were made and interact with the chef, but they got to taste each of the dishes paired with two excellent wines: Catena High Mountain Vines Chardonnay and a Catena High Mountain Vines Malbec -- great wines available for purchase at Central Market. An added bonus when you attend one of these classes? Often, the price of the book is included in the price of the class (for this class, books were on sale independent of the class for 25 percent off the MSRP), which means you get to meet a celebrity chef and author, learn how to make delicious food, dine on a classy meal, and then get an autograph to boot.
For more information Central Market Cooking classes, and upcoming events, visit the Central Market Cooking School.
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