We had the privilege of trying renowned Argentine chef Francis Mallman’s cuisine to start the new year. 1884, his flagship restaurant in Mendoza, is housed in Escorihuela Gascón – one of the oldest bodegas in the region (founded in 1884). Mallman won the coveted Grand Prix de l’Art de la Sciene de la Cuisine from the National Academy of Gastronomy of Paris in 1996, and thereby became the first non-European to win this prestigous award. His cuisine is imaginative, yet simple; primal, yet sophisticated. All dishes pay tribute to regional cuisine and a love for open flames; many hail from his homeland of Patagonia.

We chose to sit outside in the garden, for a candlelight dinner with views of the grillmaster managing mayhem around the massive clay oven. To start, we split the whole roasted Andean pumpkin with mint and goat cheese salad and indulged in three types of freshly-made, artisan breads from the clay oven. For our entrees, we selected entrees that made Mallman famous: grilled and clay oven meat. We ordered clay oven lamb and pork chop a la parrilla (grilled), topped with prosciutto and accompanied with Patagonian potatoes.

The grillmaster – One of our favorite parts of this meal was watching the “meat chef” run the clay oven. A one man show, he frantically worked to keep pace with the orders that poured in, seasoning meat only to fly around and yank a massive iron pan of sizzling animal protein out of the furnace. Without a timer and with multiple tasks, somehow he managed to know when each order was ready, delivering a sizzling hot, perfectly cooked slab of meat to the table in perfect synchronization with the sides from the kitchen.