You spend a lot of time on La Isla looking around: a 360-degree panorama of water surrounded by dense forests topped with jagged peaks and broad hills with occasional ice drifts creeping down. The lake, which lives up to its name, looks like a hammered silver, shiny surface that sometimes features a faint ripple. There are attractive forests everywhere you look, but there are few actual trails. “You make your own way,” Mallmann told me, which seemed like a life lesson Kamen’s pragmatic hiking tips. The geography of the place is a little puzzling. You are in Argentina, but during your morning stroll you can cross the border into Chile.
Mallmann arrived on the afternoon of the first day, surprisingly energetic after he had flown out of his restaurant in France, and we stood in his immaculate, wood-paneled bedroom above the harbor at La Isla, examining a row of volumes—everything from John Muir to Marguerite Duras lover In the original French. He wore red glasses, white Tony Church sneakers, a Barbour jacket, and a pink hat emblazoned with the word Esperanza, or “hope,” which he had embroidered on top. Mallmann, who loves to sew, once asked guests at a dinner party to write one word on a piece of paper; “Esperanza” was the contribution of Francis Ford Coppola.
Soon he was standing at a small point iron, One of the many wrought iron cookware scattered across the island, brushing clarified butter, a Mallmann necessity, rests on a batch of thin potato slices, overlapping a bit like some tile patterns. This was paired with grilled steak, and for dessert, “pancakes” – crepes, really, sprinkled on the same iron It is topped with Ilolay, a store-bought dulce de leche and a Mallmann favourite. There were no hot river rocks here, nothing hanging over the fire from its famous wired dome, nor any of the more adventurous methods of cooking. This was a relatively simple food you cook for friends, and it was delicious.
The question Mallmann often hears from journalists – “Why fire?” – He sends his thoughts back to his childhood, in the Patagonian mountain town of San Carlos de Bariloche. He told me, “We used to live in a house that was under fire.” “It was innate in our upbringing.” There were fires in the kitchen, in the chimneys, to heat the bathroom. He and his brothers were racing logs before the winter snows started and the timber trucks stopped coming.
The outdoors was just as important. “We were living outside, literally,” he says, skiing, hiking, and fishing. There were the “mountain priests,” men like Otto Weisskopf, an “almost indestructible” mountaineer who took part in the first winter expedition into the ice fields of Patagonia, and who would take Mallmann and his friends on arduous expeditions. Mallmann was also sitting at meetings where his father, a famous physicist, worked with his colleagues on models of the future of the world. He left school at the age of 13, and spent a lot of time in the local cinema showing art films. “Everything I know,” he says, “I learned by watching movies.”
Mallmann first came to La Isla in the 1980s, on a camping trip with friends. He was so impressed with him that he decided to build a modest hut there with his brother. A visitor’s book started in 1990, featuring early names such as Patagonia founder Yvonne Chouinard. “The fish is too small for him here,” Mallmann jokes.
There was no outside contact with the island until Malan got a satellite phone in 2004. He resisted the internet for a long time but finally gave up during the pandemic. “So we have internet now, look at me, here on my phone,” he jokes. (Mallman is a rooted, albeit somewhat repentant, Instagrammer, and has nearly a million followers.) Island.