Come summer, everyone is thinking of getting out to grill and celebrate good weather and family, friends or lovers. Eating together is an act of joy that brings out the best in everybody, bringing with it the exhilarating vertigo of imparting, revealing and giving out our thoughts — hopefully on the witty side — in words and through conversations.
For me that’s the reason to share meals — if the food and wine are delicious, all the better — but the main core and contribution of eating together are great talks.
Just by the act of starting a fire, setting a table and opening some wine bottles beneath a shaded tree or under the stars, guests are provoked into one of the best acts of sharing, transported to a place where the very romance of life itself seems to be on the tip of the tongue, the thoughts and hearts of invitees embracing at the very edge of hope and good will.
I'm happy tending a fire in a snow storm in the Andes mountains or in the pouring rain on the beaches of northern Brazil.
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The best reason to sit down and share wine, food and fire is to stake out conversations with the wit of hell or heaven. Who knows what will come out?
Maybe loving fire is something innate to humans. Since bygone times it has protected us — heating us and supplying warm food. It has been part a very long path that has given me a language of work that is as simple as it is complex and refined.
One morning recently, as I sat in the small protected corridor outside of my tent with a little fire heating my breakfast — a storm the night before had dropped lots of rain on the forest, my tent and in the mountains — I remembered my dream from the night before. In it, I was tending a fire with a large stick, cooking for dozens of native people from southern Patagonia, by a lake.
It was a peaceful dream; maybe it came from my collective memory, or maybe it was simply a reflection of my gratitude to them and all the inspiration they gave me on my fire path of grilling in pits with hot stones.
My passion for cooking outside makes me do it in any climate; I'm happy tending a fire in a snow storm in the Andes mountains or in the pouring rain on the beaches of northern Brazil. With friends, lovers, family or on my own, nothing makes me happier than being outside enjoying every gesture of nature.
When I cook with fires with my team in remote places — sometimes for very large groups of guests — I feel very lucky. I will take a chair outside and get it set on a strategic spot from which I can see everything and, as the hours go by, I know exactly how the food is cooking; my eyes, nose and other senses are alert to the quality of the wood and the influx of the wind. When you cook with fire, you are always alert and there is no space for just waiting; fire is fragile and decisions have to be made constantly.
There is a common feeling among men that cooking with fires is a bit of a masculine way of doing it, but I can assure you that, to do it right, there is a need for a very feminine grace and intuition, since fire, in all of its possible variations, holds the tender, silent, strong stance of a woman. If we could have more lady chefs working over the fires, the summer gardens’ lunches and dinners would be more delicate and delicious, not more brutal or masculine.
Patience, in fact, is the most important ingredient when we cook with fire. Nothing works well in a rush, even if you choose a simple recipe that is intended to deliver something delicious in one hour. The pace of cooking is important, and that includes all of the logistics, from starting a fire with tiny kindling to butchering the steak and placing it on the fire to cook at the right temperature.
The truth is that, even if we read many books with guidelines to help us through the process, the language of cooking with fires is, in the end, learned as any other craft: with practice. By doing it many times, we slowly start to understand the magic and the ways of grilling, adding layers of knowledge to our doing that makes us deliver good food, inspire better conversations and keep on falling in love with life, our peers and nature.
Let us go forth and so learn.