Their restaurant was just named one of the 100 best in the world but there David McMillan and Fréderic Morin were, in t-shirts, shorts, and aprons, tending to the back alley garden behind Joe Beef yesterday. Radio-Canada news anchor Patrice Roy met up with the pair to discuss what, if anything, a nod from the world's most prestigious restaurant list means. It won't come as much of a shock to anyone that McMillan and Morin are taking it all in stride. Here, translated, are some notable quotes from the television interview.
Morin, on what motivated them to open a restaurant in the once-neglected neighbourhood of Little Burgundy, a decade ago: "We weren't setting out to be pioneers. And we still don't think of ourselves that way at all."
McMillan, laughing: "We pictured ourselves riding to [nearby] Atwater Market in our bicycles."
McMillan, on how it feels to get a pat on the back from the World's 50 Best Restaurants: "It's like a cabinet-maker who's been working 25 years and gets a medal for his hard work. We sort of see it like that. And then the next morning, the cabinet-maker wakes up and gets back to work, making cabinets. I'll sweep, Fred'll work in the garden, I'll unblock a toilet later today."
I'll unblock a toilet later today.
McMillan, on the notion that Joe Beef is a culinary ambassador for and possible embodiment of Montreal: "I'm anglophone, [Fred] is francophone. He's married to an anglophone, I'm married to a francophone. We're fans of history, we're market enthusiasts. When we saw this space and thought about what we wanted to do, we decided we'll do some oysters, we'll do crab, cuts of meat for two, rabbit à la moutarde, à la cocotte, roasted duck. It was just like that."
Morin: "We're fans of old menus and me, particularly, old train menus. Regardless of whether it's an old restaurant menu, an old train menu, an old jazz club menu, the food that we serve at Joe Beef and at [Liverpool House and Le Vin Papillon] is what we would've found on a menu in 1932."
We've been working in kitchens in Montreal since we were 18.
McMillan, on what they've done right so far: "It's experience. You know that Malcolm Gladwell theory about 10,000 hours? Sometimes I laugh about it but it's true. Before Joe Beef we worked 50,000 hours in restaurants combined. Before we set foot in this restaurant. I'm 45 years old. We've been working in kitchens in Montreal since we were 18."
McMillan, on the overall quality of Montreal restaurants: "Customers are very well-informed and educated here. They eat high-quality proteins, good cheese, we have one of the best scenes in the world for natural wines. We drink very well in Quebec."
Montreal had great restaurants before Joe Beef.
Morin: "People come here to eat well. L'Express, Au Pied de Cochon. Montreal had great restaurants before Joe Beef. We've always had them."
McMillan, on what he admires in a restaurant: "When I see a small, chef-run restaurant, with a blackboard menu, preparing market cuisine, like we do here, it makes me very happy. It's the most intelligent way to work. Ordering products, conceiving the menu daily, keeping it small, intimate, close. It's a beautiful métier when you work that way."
In reaction to Roy's suggestion that Joe Beef is among the most important restaurants on the planet: "No, no, we should never talk that way. No, no, we work, and that's it. It's a list, it doesn't mean anything. We're happy to be on it, it's good, and maybe we'll realize some economic benefits at the restaurant as a result. It's good for the young people that work here, it's good for our colleagues, and it's good for Montreal."
When we opened we had nothing.
Morin, on the reality of the restaurant business in Montreal: "We're always at the mercy of something, regardless of the municipal government in place. One day we'll come in, park our cars in back, open the door in front, and the street will be ripped up. With no warning. There's no more street. It's like on Saint-Laurent. The city killed that street [due, in part, to extensive road work and construction]. It's a Montreal institution. The butcher shops, the restaurants, the clubs, the nice grocery shops. They killed it. Assassinated it. When we opened we had nothing. I had $10,000 in credit card debt that took me years to resolve."
We're always 21 days away from closing.
McMillan: "It's good now but I look at our finances and we're always, always, 21 days away from closing. Road work, they close the alley behind the restaurants, a fire—it's over. It'll all evaporate immediately. We do what we can, day by day."