Prime Cuts

The lat­est cook­book from Mon­treal’s Joe Beef is a guide to a glut­tonous way of life

The Walrus - - FRONT PAGE - by shan­non tien il­lus­tra­tion by sarah gon­za­les

Iam a fol­lower of recipes. Un­like those cooks who sub­sti­tute chicken stock for veg­etable or cin­na­mon for nut­meg, I think of each recipe as a test, and if I pay at­ten­tion and fol­low the rules ex­actly as de­scribed, ev­ery­thing will taste like it’s sup­posed to taste. So I was a bit wor­ried when I opened Joe Beef: Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse, the sec­ond cook­book from Mon­treal restau­ra­teurs David Mcmillan and Fred Morin along with co-au­thor Mered­ith Erick­son, and saw in­struc­tions for pick­ling deer necks, fry­ing calf brains, and cook­ing up crispy frog legs. I had no idea where to be­gin or even where to shop.

Many of the tome’s 158 recipes are sim­i­lar to, or based on, the ex­trav­a­gant, deca­dent, and some­what out­ra­geous French-in­spired meals served at Mcmillan and Morin’s restau­rants: Joe Beef, Liver­pool House, Le Vin Papillon (all of which are found along the same street in Mon­treal’s Lit­tle Bur­gundy), and the two re­cently opened des­ti­na­tions Mon Lapin and Mckiernan Lun­cheonette. Ever since 2005, the duo’s in­ven­tive and un­stuffy cui­sine — think a ba­con-and cheese sand­wich that re­places slices of bread with deep-fried foie gras (it was named the Dou­ble Down, af­ter the KFC sand­wich) or calf liver stuffed with mush­rooms, co­gnac, and bread, then fried in but­ter—has el­e­vated their restau­rants to bucket-list sta­tus for foodob­sessed tourists. An­thony Bourdain fea­tured Joe Beef on The Lay­over and re­ferred to the menu as “won­der­ful and un­apolo­get­i­cally over the top at times,” and Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau once met for a well-pub­li­cized meal at Liver­pool House, where they had the fa­mous lob­ster spaghetti.

Meals in the world of Joe Beef tend to be “last meals” — the kind of food you’d eat if there were no to­mor­row — and the ones in this book are no dif­fer­ent. I scanned the ta­ble of con­tents and set­tled on one dish that seemed prac­ti­cal enough for some­one who had to wake up the next morn­ing: “But­tered Turnip Soup aka Po­tage Télé pathique.” The recipe called for half a pound of but­ter and three cups of whole milk, and though a note ex­plained that the soup could be adapted for any root veg­etable, it said that “big white turnips are the most de­li­cious and proper adult de­ci­sion.” So turnips it was. I du­ti­fully sweated the veg­eta­bles in the fat for forty min­utes as the au­thors dic­tated, “un­til they are re­ally soft, as only a Euro­pean mother could ap­pre­ci­ate,” and af­ter blend­ing ev­ery­thing to­gether, I was re­warded with a vel­vety soup that was sweet, salty, and creamy. The turnips barely re­sem­bled their for­mer hard, ground-dwelling selves.

Even though I was in my kitchen in Van­cou­ver, each spoon­ful trans­ported me back to Le Vin Papillon — Mcmillan and Morin’s veg­etable-for­ward wine bar—where I last ate in 2014. How­ever, Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse does more than share Mcmillan and Morin’s triedand-true recipes. “This book is about how to build things for your­self,” Erick­son writes in the pro­logue. “This book is about how to make it on your own.” She’s not be­ing glib. Over its 320 pages, Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse con­tains ev­ery­thing from in­struc­tions on how to make

your own soap (lye and beef fat) and how to cre­ate spruce cough drops from scratch (though good luck find­ing the ta­ble­spoon of slip­pery elm bark) to how to butcher a chicken (be sure to pick one of a “no­ble pedi­gree”!). Closely fol­low­ing all the recipes isn’t ex­actly prac­ti­cal, but then again, it’s not sup­posed to be. The book isn’t a guide to craft­ing a quick week­night menu; it’s a bi­ble for the Joe Beef life­style.

To some ex­tent, all cook­books are self-help books. Ina Garten prom­ises do­mes­tic bliss through el­e­gant bowls of corn chow­der, and Nigella Law­son preaches ease and re­lax­ation for din­ner-party hosts. Mcmillan, Morin, and Erick­son, how­ever, take that no­tion to the ex­treme. Their book’s ti­tle— Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse — plays out in the first chap­ter. On the page and in in­ter­views, the au­thors cite their signs of end times, in­clud­ing, but not lim­ited to, In­sta­gram foodie cul­ture, Don­ald Trump, cli­mate change, the cor­rup­tion of Mon­treal’s mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment, the dif­fi­culty of run­ning a restau­rant (even a suc­cess­ful one), their own ever-in­creas­ing age, and re­cent changes to the menu at L’ex­press, one of Mon­treal’s most beloved tra­di­tional French restau­rants. But Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse ar­gues that the end of the world doesn’t need to be a bad thing. “When the apoca­lypse, or the nu­clear win­ter, hits, we don’t want to just sur­vive: we want to live it out in full Bur­gundy style,” Erick­son writes, and it seems clear that this is a fan­tasy the au­thors have been nurs­ing for a while.

The first chap­ter in­cludes a recipe for car­di­nal peaches — a dessert made with a six-ounce can of Car­na­tion cream, sugar, and lemon juice mixed with fruit and berries — and one short es­say ex­plains how Québécois cooks of yore of­ten sea­soned their sauces with steeped Five Roses tea when wine was un­avail­able — a prac­ti­cal bit of ad­vice should civ­i­liza­tion sud­denly col­lapse. The chap­ter also fea­tures a poster­like in­sert show­ing read­ers how to prop­erly stock a cel­lar, which in­cludes in­struc­tions on pick­ling pork butt, fer­ment­ing sauer­kraut, and pre­serv­ing other del­i­ca­cies that ought to last for a Que­bec win­ter, or longer. The dishes in this chap­ter fo­cus heav­ily on lo­cal fish, game, and pro­duce, though the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of cre­at­ing them in the af­ter­math of dis­as­ter are sus­pect (with­out a photo ref­er­ence, how does one iden­tify and scrounge up the twenty Labrador tea leaves nec­es­sary for “Small­mouth Bass in Birch Bark”?). Nev­er­the­less, the recipes are in­ven­tive and are proof that the Joe Beef ethos of eat­ing well can still be done over a camp stove.

The end-of-the-world theme is most overt in the first of the book’s eight chap­ters, and af­ter­wards, the writ­ers move on to more tra­di­tional fare: mi­crowaved foie gras, smoked-meat cro­quettes, and white tripe with cider. There are chap­ters de­voted to dishes found at Joe Beef and Liver­pool House, per­fect (and elab­o­rate) fam­ily Sun­day din­ners, and a guide to “cam­per’s Christ­mas” — the ju­bi­lant sec­u­lar cel­e­bra­tion that takes place in camp­grounds across Que­bec each July. Pho­to­graphs — not just of the food but of Mon­treal, mem­o­ra­bilia, restau­rant staff, and the writ­ers’ fam­i­lies — are placed scrap­book-style through­out and are mixed with paint­ings and il­lus­tra­tions. Aes­thet­i­cally, the book is rem­i­nis­cent of Joe Beef: crowded with vin­tage Cana­di­ana and served with mis­matched plates and cut­lery.

Then there is the mis­cel­lany of non­recipe ma­te­rial, in­clud­ing es­says, an ex­cerpt from a book of French Cana­dian po­ems, and mem­oir-like in­ter­ludes that fo­cus on the au­thors’ child­hoods and early ca­reers. In the chap­ter “Be­yond Road­blocks and Ban­nock,” the writ­ers turn some pages over to Ta­ia­iake Al­fred, who is Kanien’ke­há:ka, Mo­hawk. He tells the story of the Indige­nous peo­ples who have lived in what’s now Mon­treal and writes about what’s needed for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion to work. All of these bits add up to a cook­book that is more nar­ra­tive, and more in­ter­est­ing, than those stan­dard col­lec­tions of recipes mod­elled af­ter The Joy of Cook­ing or the works of Ju­lia Child. It’s not that recipes aren’t im­por­tant to Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse, but peo­ple can en­joy the cook­book with­out step­ping foot in their kitchen. Morin told me that he hopes to find his book in peo­ple’s bath­rooms, “be­ing read and reread” and look­ing worse for wear. I wouldn’t be sur­prised if that comes to pass.

In many ways, Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the first cook­book that Morin, Mcmillan, and Erick­son wrote to­gether, 2011’s The Art of Liv­ing Ac­cord­ing to Joe Beef. For most of the world, that text served as an in­tro­duc­tion to the Joe Beef restau­rants and their cre­ators’ joie de vivre. It was filled with recipes for the kinds of dishes that

Morin and Mcmillan are now fa­mous for, like squid stuffed with lob­ster and Velveeta eclairs, and it also in­cluded ex­tracur­ric­u­lar in­for­ma­tion, such as de­tails on how to skewer a rab­bit, build a smoker, and cre­ate homemade ab­sinthe. The book was ir­rev­er­ent, brash, and ec­cen­tric. Here’s Mcmillan writ­ing about his ob­ses­sion with bur­gundy wine: “If I scrape my knee I im­me­di­ately con­sider pour­ing Bur­gundy on it. I’m sold on its heal­ing qual­i­ties. If I’m at home sick with a cold, I think to drink it. If I see some­one with acne, I want to rub it on his or her face.”

When The Art of Liv­ing was pub­lished, cook­books were strug­gling to de­fine their value in the midst of the ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity of food blogs. Many peo­ple weren’t sure whether phys­i­cal cook­books would even sur­vive. But The Art of Liv­ing ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions by be­com­ing wildly pop­u­lar and crit­i­cally ac­claimed. An­thony Bourdain said that the book’s novel ap­proach “changed for­ever what a cook­book could be”; chef Alice Wa­ters gave it the highly cov­eted Piglet award and said, “There is a sense of his­tory to the book .... There is rich­ness in de­tail and usu­ally a lovely idio­syn­cratic story for each recipe.” Though mem­oir-heavy cook­books al­ready ex­isted—1986’s Honey from a Weed by Pa­tience Gray is a clas­sic au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal cook­book and travel nar­ra­tive that min­gles recipes with ac­counts of the au­thor’s life in Italy; The Alice B. Tok­las Cook Book from 1954 fa­mously re­counts the au­thor’s life with her part­ner, Gertrude Stein, along with the recipes she cooked for her (in­clud­ing one for hashish fudge) — The Art of Liv­ing was, cor­rectly or not, lauded as some­thing new. It helped ce­ment Morin and Mcmillan’s sta­tus as top culi­nary mad pro­fes­sors and pro­pelled Erick­son, who had been one of the first servers at Joe Beef, into a ca­reer as an in-de­mand cook­book au­thor for other chefs.

In the seven years since The Art of Liv­ing was re­leased, a lot has changed in the culi­nary and cook­book worlds. It’s now com­mon for con­tem­po­rary cook­book au­thors to ex­per­i­ment with a nar­ra­tive hy­brid of mem­oir, elab­o­rate pho­tog­ra­phy, and life­style ad­vice in or­der to earn a place on cof­fee ta­bles and book­shelves. (Erick­son says pub­lish­ers reg­u­larly tell her that chefs come in want­ing to make books just like the first Joe Beef cook­book.) And much has changed for Morin and Mcmillan. They are now in their for­ties; Mcmillan re­cently com­pleted a stint in re­hab, and Morin now fol­lows a gluten-free diet. Their days are no longer spent as un­der­dog chefs sweat­ing over the stove, as their fo­cus is on manag­ing and main­tain­ing their em­pire.

There­fore, it should come as no sur­prise that Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse, de­spite its glut­tony and ex­cess, feels like a more ma­ture of­fer­ing than The Art of Liv­ing. While its ti­tle sug­gests a fo­cus on the end times, Morin and Mcmillan seem more in­ter­ested in their fu­tures—the book even in­cludes a sec­tion de­voted en­tirely to health food. Mcmillan ac­knowl­edges this shift in an es­say on wine: “Per­haps in the first book we were a tad bom­bas­tic,” he writes. “In­deed, I per­son­ally may have gone over­board with the ‘I love red Bur­gundy so much I want to pour it in my eyes,’ bit.” He later re­veals that his taste for bur­gundy has been re­placed with a pen­chant for nat­u­ral wine, which is of­ten or­ganic and made with­out ad­di­tives—not only for its flavour qual­i­ties, he says, but for its sim­plic­ity, its sus­tain­abil­ity, and its health­ful­ness.

If Ar­maged­don does oc­cur, any read­ers who sur­vive will be lucky to have Sur­viv­ing the Apoca­lypse on hand as a guide­book. If they can man­age to scrounge up all the right in­gre­di­ents, they can whip up some pot-au-feu, fer­ment nat­u­ral wine in a Yeti cooler, and en­joy what’s left of the world.

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