Francis Mallmann tossed fragrant logs on a pyre and lit the fires before dawn. The chef was setting up a fiesta for a friend, and we were on the desolate, still-cold plain east of Uruguay's Río de la Plata. Offering a cup of Lapsang souchong for breakfast, he said, grinning: "I like to start the day with this tea because it's smoky." Gauchos raked coals around staked sheep, sides of beef, an entire pig covered with cut lemons. By late afternoon, buzzards circled on thermals above us, enticed, as we were, by the smell of popping fat and charring bones. I sought shade under a stand of eucalyptus. Every now and then, one of the asadores would whip out a wickedly long blade and slice off chunks of meat for us to gnaw. Sun-scorched faces smeared with juices, fists full of blood sausages. This was outdoor cooking beyond the backyard, with tastes as intense and uncivilized as the landscape in this far latitude. Mallmann looked content. I wiped my hands, greasy with crackling pork skin, on my jeans.
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