Carnivore King Francis Mallmann's Honest Thoughts On Cell-Based Meat - Exclusive Interview

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With a nickname like "Carnivore King," one could assume that Francis Mallmann has enjoyed eating his fair share of animals. While this is true, the ever-evolving chef has once again switched his focus, much like he's done for most of his illustrious career. Featured on Netflix's "Chef's Table," Mallmann recounted how once he began to gain notoriety for his decadent French fare in the '80s, he realized something was missing. To stay authentic to the cooking style he grew up with as a child in Argentina, he wanted to make elevated open-fire style cuisine.

That risky shift would ultimately lead to massive success. Mallmann has won multiple cooking awards, runs nine successful restaurants around the world, and has written several acclaimed cookbooks. While most would sit back and relish their accomplishments, that's now how the restaurateur believes we grow as individuals or as a society. That's one of the reasons he has recently partnered with GOOD Meat, which is a company that applies cutting-edge technology to create meat from animal cells rather than slaughtered livestock.

In an exclusive interview with Mashed, we asked Mallmann what prompted him to make this dramatic change, what inspired his new vegetarian style cookbook, "Green Fire," and what this type of cell-based chicken actually tastes like.

The reason behind his switch from meat to vegetable-based recipes

You're very well known for cooking meats and grilling. What made you interested in pursuing vegetarianism?

I'm not a vegetarian, myself. Over the last eight years, I've been getting messages, very elegant, polite, and well-mannered messages on Instagram with young people saying to me, "Chef, we love your work, but we don't eat meat or fish." After years of that and seeing that all the kids who wrote to me were between 16 and 20, I thought I owe them something, because in the past, the vegan would come to an event and look at the chickens and say, "What are you doing? You're a killer. You're an assassin." Now, these kids were so, so nice to me saying, "We love what you do, but we don't eat meat or fish," so I thought I owe them something.

On the other hand, we have the planet situation, which is quite bad. We have destroyed the oceans. We've been raising animals that are very unhealthy, all over. Being someone that has cooked meats for 50 years, I need to embrace all these problems and start thinking and telling people that first, we have to eat more vegetables. Second, we have to search for a traceability of the things we buy, more rigorously.

Those are the reasons why I wrote this book. It took me four years because I was caught in the pandemic in the middle of it, but now it's out there. It's doing very well, and I'm happy. I won't be a vegan, but yes, I'm eating less meat. I always love vegetables, but we have to make a change, and our voice is heard all around the world with chefs, and it's important that we say it.

Misconceptions people have about vegetarian food

Through your process of writing your cookbook "Green Fire," were there any big misconceptions about vegetarianism that you found?

Misconceptions, in which way? Tell me.

People think perhaps it's going to be less flavorful and maybe not as hearty it's not going to stay by you as much. That was definitely a misconception I had about it as well.

Well, that's true. It's lighter. In the book, I have this delicious recipe of a Milanese done with eggplant and it's very ... You eat it and you feel good after it, but it's not meat. It's not like eating meat. I can't say that. It's not like eating a chicken or a delicious piece of fish. It's another world. It's different, but it's delicious anyway, and you can eat it and feel that you had a very nice lunch or dinner, but it's different.

What was your favorite dish that you put in your new cookbook?

That one [I just mentioned], the eggplant Milanese. It's done with bread crumbs. It's a double-decker of eggplant that we first cook in ashes and then we make the Milanese with fresh breadcrumbs, and inside, it has garlic and thyme and we serve it with a green salad and aioli. Basically, it's like eating something like a steak, because it's quite rich, but it's not a steak, it's not fish, it's not a chicken. It's different. It's another thing.

Do any of your recipes have any special significance for you or any type of special meaning?

When I decided to do this book, I thought a lot about it. Am I going to be innovative in my cooking? I thought, "No, I won't. I'm going to embrace who I am, what I like, and what I do." It's not that I'm doing tofu or I'm doing a cheese of cashews. It's not that. It's vegetables, fruits, and grains, cooked as I like to cook them, and that's the book.

Why he partnered with GOOD Meat

How did your partnership with GOOD Meat come about?

I was in Singapore and they said, "We know you're coming next week. We have this product." They gave me all the links. I studied it. I talked to some biologists and some engineers and they explained to me what they were doing and I thought it was very interesting. I went to taste it, and it's interesting and it's important what they're doing, because it's a healthy path to something new. If you look at technology in the last 10 years, things go so fast, and they will improve what they're doing today. It's not that it's bad. It's perfectly eatable.

It's good to eat, but it will keep on improving and they're doing it with fish [and] with meat. It's interesting because Singapore is a small island, and they have a lot of support from the government because they realize that they can't depend anymore on bringing water in from Malaysia. They don't produce anything. They don't have a meter of land to have a crop. They're investing in doing these things because there's a way that if something happens, the country will have food. It's interesting on every side. It's a good path.

From what I understand, meat gets some of its taste from what the animal eats. I would imagine there would be a bit of a difference in cell-based meat because it's not an animal that has a type of diet.

What they do is they cultivate the cells of a true chicken. Now, if you ask me how they cook that, I have no idea. I'm not a scientist. What they do is they take the cells out of a chicken and with that, they reproduce it and they get this piece of meat. What they have to do now is get a better texture and they're on the path to that. It's a path. Is it perfect? It's not perfect yet. What was perfect when it started? Computers, were they perfect? They weren't.

Somebody has to start to think about these things and to do food in another way, instead of having thousands and thousands of acres of crops. We like it, but the world is getting bigger, and we are destroying it.

Chef Mallmann discusses if entering into this new type of food market makes him apprehensive

I read that you said we won't be eating meat in 30 years. Do you still believe that?

We will eat much less. The rules will be much more harsh, [and] the traceability will be everything. This steak, where does it come from? Where are the certificates? What did [the bull] eat? Did he have antibiotics? Did he have anabolics? When that's free, we will have a steak that's probably 10 times more expensive than today, so that will get the market to a different place. That's what will happen. The worst [problems are with] fish. We have destroyed the seas. The oceans are full of garbage. There are fish that can't be fished anymore. The Mediterranean doesn't have any more tuna. They're gone. Europe ate them.

As someone that has said that it's good to be uncomfortable in order to grow I'm curious, does anything make you uneasy about entering this new food market?

I thought a lot about it. It's uneasy for everybody. It is for me and for everybody, because we're not used to this. If I tell you we're cultivating meat, well, it's strong, but it's a path that will only improve with the technology, the engineers, the biologists, and so on. That's my feeling, and I need to believe in something better than what we have. Is it as delicious as country chicken? Not yet. That's the truth.

But could it get there?

It will get there. They will get there.

Because you travel so extensively and experience so many different culinary philosophies have you seen anything that gets you excited about the future of cooking?

Who will really change the world are these kids because they have very different ambitions than us. I was raised in a world where I was taught that every year I should have a better house, a little bit bigger, and I should have another car, and I should be able to buy myself a painting that I like. Their ambitions are very big, but they're not related to possessions. I have a friend who gave a house to his kid for his birthday as a present and the son said, "Dad, why do I want a house? I don't want a house. Keep it, please. I don't want a car. I ride Ubers. I rent. I move every six months." That attitude towards everything and their ambition to improve everything — they have incredible thoughts — that will change the world. It won't be us. They will grab us by the nose and tell us, "You can't do that anymore."

They want to experience things. It's much more of an experience culture.

As I said at the beginning, they're very well mannered. They don't shout. They talk. They explain. That's what made me move, because after getting hundreds of messages of these kids from all around the world, in such a nice way saying, "Chef, we love your work, but we don't eat meat," we have to do something because they will be in charge of the world in 10, 12, 15 years.

Why Francis Mallmann does't eat fast food

Who is the one chef you'd want to cook you dinner?

Probably Ruth Rogers of the River Cafe in London.

What's one ingredient you could never live without?

Patience [laughs].

Yeah, that's fair.

Fair because you need patience in our craft. After that, probably rice. Rice is the thing I most like to eat myself, personally. White rice, basmati rice.

What is your go to fast food order and which restaurant?

I live in Argentina, [where] we are not very used to ordering food. I like to go to the kitchen and cook something delicious in 20 minutes or 30 minutes. We spend a lot of time at the table in Argentina at lunch and at dinner. We sit. We set the table. We talk, then we wash. I've never had a dishwasher.

I don't want to sound prehistoric, but I love washing my pans and my pots and my plates. I love it. First, I'm old. I'm 66, so this trend of ordering food, it's not my thing. It may be my daughter's, though.

It seems like you're more about the experience of a meal and what that involves.

Yes, the lifestyle. I came into this business of cooking because of all that is around food: the table, the flowers, the music, the happiness, the silence, and then the delicious food. What really touched me is what happens humanly at the table because when we sit to eat, we sit to share. Maybe you have a fight, it happens, but generally, we sit down and we talk. We are witty. We have different thoughts. We discuss things. We have wine, and that's the beauty of it. The important thing is that we were sitting, we were talking, and we were sharing, and we didn't have the same points of view, but we had a nice time.

That's very true, I agree. Is there anything else that you'd want to add or any other project that you'd want to mention or have in the article?

I would tell people that we need to have an open mind, even if the new proposals are not yet perfect. We have to have an open mind. We have to try. We have to give them the possibility of telling us something that is different and that, one day, maybe it will save us.

For more information on GOOD Meat, visit their website. Francis Mallmann's cookbook "Green Fire" is available on Amazon.

This interview has been edited for clarity.