If Argentinean cooking has a star, there's no question who it is: Francis Mallmann.
The 43-year-old Patagonian is the only non-European winner of the International Academy of Gastronomy's Grand Prix de l'Art de la Cuisine. Thanks to his good looks, his boyish personality and, not least, his culinary skill, he has become a national TV presence of Emeril-like ubiquity and the force behind a string of successful restaurants--one in Buenos Aires; one in the Mendoza wine region; two on the coast of Uruguay, where the Argentinean elite migrate during the summer months; and one in the town where he was born, San Carlos de Bariloche, which might be described as the Jackson Hole of Patagonia.
People tend to think of Patagonia (if they think of it at all) as a place at the end of the earth. It's a region of wide plains and awe-inspiring peaks, a thousand-mile strip of Argentina and Chile that runs down the eastern spine of the Andes almost to the tip of South America. Historically this was the frontier, home to thebedaggered and billowy-trousered cowboys known as gauchos and to the Araucanian Indians, whom the Spanish never conquered. Today Patagonia has become popular with an international crew of winter skiers and summer anglers--a Wild West with Hermès scarves and Basque berets.