From The Ashes
There is a type of piece in love with clean stark words and cruel dark men.
There is a type of piece that takes for the object of its wide-eyed adoration stormy, uncommunicative, closed-off protagonists, given to gnomic musings, allergic to anything soft, or light, or frivolous.
That contains rocky chains of hard-edged, flintily masculine, big sky poetry like
You are drifting deeper into the wild and farther from anything you know
this island of misfit Renaissance men
Eat all you want. No one here is going to judge you for enjoying a steak.
In South America, he built up a reputation as a shaman of smoke
He does not deny that his romantic fires have, along the way, left behind a trail of ash
You need to watch him cook the beast.
There is a type of piece that always comes down to you (presumed male) watching him (hardgendered male, male in excelsis) cook the beast. When Francis Mallmann celebrates his infidelity, he is cooking the beast. When Francis Mallmann uncorks a bottle of wine at 11AM, he is cooking the beast. When Francis Mallmann, as though by demigodly fiat, builds himself a house and lifestyle on a remote Patagonian island all by himself with his bare manly hands he is cooking the beast.
The beast is your inadequacy as a man, and he is just fucking burning it.
There is a type of piece that does not advance the culture one inch. That falls back on everything that has worked before, and champions nothing new.
There is a type of piece that in its toxic conservativism does double the harm, because the inches it occupies are inches that could be filled with far more meaningful conversations. Conversations about how male chefs wield power for better and for worse (“Before long, she too had fallen under Mallmann’s Prospero-like spell”, written of April Bloomfield – nothing to explore further in that simile, clearly). Conversations about how dominant myths in food culture often come at a hidden cost to someone less fortunate (a throwaway line: “he considers himself a humble student of the indigenous people of Patagonia, many of whom were systematically wiped out by outside invaders”). Conversations about double standards, or about however many conflicting standards you have to apply to nod respectfully at a dude who has fathered six kids from four relationships whilst pretending for a single hilarious second that you’d be just as chill about it if the chef in question didn’t own a dick.
There is a type of piece that – when it asks the question “IS FRANCIS MALLMANN THE MOST INTERESTING CHEF IN THE WORLD?” – reveals itself in all its naked and terrible brutality. A type of piece that is always – has always been – about superlatives, about who can be the most. In smashing with such thrusting, competitive spirit into the realm of thoughts, and ideas, and interest, it reveals its contempt for it, and everything it contains.
There is a type of piece that JUST KEEPS GETTING WRITTEN, YOU GUYS. The people writing it are to blame. The people commissioning it are to blame. The people reading and disseminating it, and buying into the broader Chef’s Tablification of food culture that makes it possible in the first place, are to blame. The subject matter is to blame. You might be to blame.
There is a type of piece that is in love with clean stark words and cruel dark men – chaos, and the death drive, and the brutally delicious. It came into being because the people writing it (men) didn’t want the people reading it (also men) to feel they were somehow imperilling their hard-earned, GQ-burnished masculinity by sissying around with someone who cooked for a living (this in publications happy to promote grooming products and millinery, to share tips to the sexually dysfunctional, but whatever). And so the language was birthed – or borrowed from Hemingway or McCarthy – and the tone was set. The complex man walked down the dark road. The brooding profile followed.
There is a type of piece that had its time a decade or more ago – that is old, too old for this age, that may not be ready to die but must die all the same.
Because there is another type of piece out there, too. And it is young, and vital, and hungry.
And it needs to live.