Pre­pare for zom­bie apoca­lypse with new Cana­dian cook­book

‘It’s not what we set out to build’: Joe Beef chefs on how fame changed the eatery


The Cana­dian Press

TORONTO — Mon­treal chefs Fred­eric Morin and David McMil­lan are ready for the end of the world.

The culi­nary giants be­hind the much-lauded eatery Joe Beef re­turn with a se­cond cook­book filled with tongue-in-cheek tips on how to cope with the end-of-times: home­made cough drops, soap, and boul­lion cubes (formed with a hashish press) as well as recipes for pick­led port butt, pick­led deer necks, pick­led eggs and pick­led tongues.

Joe Beef: Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse, co-writ­ten with long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor Mered­ith Erick­son, doesn’t se­ri­ously por­tend a zom­bie apoca­lypse but it does be­moan In­sta­gram-driven “self-praise” and “ob­ses­sion of the self.”

In a re­cent stop in Toronto, the trio also fret over the threat of cul­tural ero­sion in FrenchCana­dian cui­sine, point­ing to re­cent menu changes at the long­time Parisian-style res­tau­rant L’Ex­press.

“You’ll see multi-coloured tomato salad with bur­rata — it just doesn’t fit. And you’ll see tataki of tuna with sesame and soy. And they re­moved the jel­lied egg, which was like a main­stay,” says McMil­lan.

“Our cui­sine is some­what un­der as­sault by the rest of an­glo­phone North Amer­ica,” McMil­lan says. “It’s im­por­tant that we do what feels like Mon­treal.”

The new book in­cludes a chap­ter on Mon­treal’s orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants — from the Mo­hawk ter­ri­tory of Kah­nawake — ad­dress­ing a glar­ing omis­sion in the trio’s 2011 book, “The Art of Liv­ing Ac­cord­ing to Joe Beef.”

“We were em­bar­rassed... it was quite glar­ing,” says Erick­son.

“I started off the first book more or less with the premise that North Amer­ica was a great dark­ness un­til the Euro­peans came two kilo­me­tres from our res­tau­rant and started to cook,” McMil­lan ad­mits. “I was quickly cor­rected in a not so friendly let­ter from our friend (Ta­ia­iake) Al­fred who (is) in this book.”

Also present is the spirit of their late friend and ar­dent cham­pion An­thony Bour­dain, who pro­vides a back-flap en­dorse­ment that Erick­son says was re­ceived by their ed­i­tor just a few days be­fore the “Parts Un­known” star died in June.

“And then we read it right around that time that it hap­pened,” she says. “Dev­as­tat­ing.”

Dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press, the talk­a­tive trio touched on a range of is­sues in­clud­ing why McMil­lan can’t af­ford to eat at his own res­tau­rant and the prob­lem with “best of” lists. CP: So why fo­cus on the end of the world? McMil­lan: We strug­gled through the res­tau­rant busi­ness, es­pe­cially in a city with crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture like Mon­treal — just gen­eral cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment of funds, you know .... We have three kids a piece, 100 em­ploy­ees, so there is al­ways an im­pend­ing sense of doom (and) that just mak­ing pay­roll ev­ery 14 days is a gi­ant stress.

CP: But don’t you feel like a suc­cess story? You have three restau­rants now. You’re con­sid­ered to be among the best.

Morin: There’s a process to be­com­ing “The Best” by the list stan­dard that it be­comes a job in it­self. You have to abide by their stan­dard, their cri­te­ria, you have to strive to plate the way “The Best” ex­pects it. You have to of­fer ser­vice the way “The Best” ex­pects it, and our process is not driven to­wards that.

McMil­lan: If we wanted to try to fit into the Miche­lin sys­tem, there’s a for­mula to that. The din­ing room man­ager should dress a cer­tain way, the wine list has to be a cer­tain way, there has to be a cer­tain el­e­ment of lux­ury. There’s a game that you have to play and I won’t play that game. I’m go­ing to play small coun­try bistro for the rest of my life ....

I want to make sausage, I want to make prosci­utto, I want to make ter­rine, I want to make smoked salmon.

CP: The pub­lic ap­pre­ci­ates that now more that a few years ago don’t they? Peo­ple cer­tainly seem to be more aware of where and how food is sourced.

Morin: There are restau­rants of­ten that will serve “lo­cal lamb” that is not (lo­cal), that is New Zealand lamb. And in most of them are in that two-, three-stars, high end (range).

McMil­lan: There are restau­rants that al­ways have as­para­gus on the menu. We have as­para­gus on the menu, but it’s four weeks; 28 days. (This) has also been the death of French cook­ing as well. You go to small, coun­try restau­rants to­day in the coun­try­side in Bur­gundy and it’ll be straw­ber­ries from Cal­i­for­nia in a three-Miche­lin-star res­tau­rant and pineap­ples from Hawaii in the mid­dle of nowhere.

Morin: And the pub­lic is guilty of that be­cause they’ve been re­quest­ing choice and this word ap­plied to a menu that can be awk­ward — a “di­ver­sity” of food on their plate where they’re, “Oh, I’m bored with lo­cal hal­ibut, I feel like some­thing else.” ... So the restau­ra­teurs are com­pelled to cre­ate a menu which goes from a sim­ple prix-fixe menu to...

McMil­lan: ...50 ap­pe­tiz­ers (and) all the pro­teins un­der the sun.

CP: Go­ing back to the “Best of” lists, can suc­cess have a dark side?

David: Fred and I were the chefs at Globe res­tau­rant for a decade where it was packed, where we gar­nered many ac­co­lades and many ar­ti­cles. And it was a very suc­cess­ful res­tau­rant that we took from zero to a res­tau­rant that sold $140,000 a week and some­times more. (And then) I didn’t want to be in the res­tau­rant busi­ness any­more .... When we left Globe, he was on an­tide­pres­sants and I was al­co­holic and on an­tide­pres­sants as well. We opened Joe Beef as a ther­a­peu­tic res­tau­rant with 20 seats for me and him that was go­ing to be open from 7 p.m. and we were go­ing to do 40 peo­ple and that was it.

Then David Chang said his two favourite restau­rants in the world were Noma and Joe Beef in a minute Amer­i­can pub­li­ca­tion. Next thing you know, we had writ­ers from the Wash­ing­ton Post, the Philadel­phia En­quirer, the LA Times, the New York Times in­side the res­tau­rant. Then An­thony Bour­dain was in­side the res­tau­rant.

Lis­ten, we’re happy, it’s a won­der­ful res­tau­rant. We wrote this book about it, we love be­ing there, but it’s not what we set out to build. We set out to build a ther­a­peu­tic res­tau­rant where Fred and I would cook 40 meals a night and split money if there was any money to be split .... It takes 12 weeks to get a reser­va­tion at Joe Beef and it’s been that way for eight years. It’s never not been 12 weeks to get a ta­ble.

I’ve of­ten thought about selling it. It comes to my mind once a year. Less so now, but it’s not what I wanted.

CP: I read that you can’t even af­ford to eat at Joe Beef.

McMil­lan: That’s ab­so­lutely cor­rect. Din­ner for four at Joe Beef the way peo­ple eat at Joe beef — aper­i­tif, a bot­tle of white wine, a bot­tle of red wine, pro­tein rich, cel­e­bra­tory din­ner — it’s ac­cu­rate in say­ing it (costs) what I make in a week. CP: How much is that? McMil­lan: Prob­a­bly $1,000. Prob­a­bly $200 per per­son.

Fred: But Joe Beef is a very tempt­ing menu .... I look at the Joe Beef menu and I’m com­pelled to think the same way — I would have this, I would have this, I would have the sides, I would have this. There are some restau­rants that are very af­ford­able be­cause you don’t want to order any­thing off the menu. Ex­cept maybe the trout.

McMil­lan: The cus­tomer de­cided what the res­tau­rant should be. Fred: They wanted rib steaks. McMil­lan: They said, “David, I work very hard in my life... I don’t eat hangar steak with French fries.” ... I was like, “I apol­o­gize. Fred will order a large steak for you next week.” ... And that’s all we’re selling. And then we’re putting steaks this thick (holds his fin­gers three inches apart) and we’re selling them all. And we’re putting steaks this thick (ex­tends fin­gers) and we’re selling them all. And then we’re putting $120 bot­tles of wine (and) we’re selling them off. And then we buy one $200 bot­tle of wine, we sell it right away.

So that we buy a lot of wine and a lot of steaks and a lot of lob­ster and a lot of oys­ters and then peo­ple are go­ing, “Hey, it’d be nice if there’s truf­fles on it.” ... And now we have truf­fles.

The Cana­dian Press

Fred­eric Morin, left, David McMil­lan and Mered­ith Erick­son are the minds be­hind Joe Beef: Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse, a new cook­book.

The cook­book Joe Beef: Sur­viv­ing The Apoca­lypse by Fred­eric Morin, David McMil­lan and Mered­ith Erick­son.

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