David McMillan would rather be in the country. Sure, Montreal has been good to the co-owner and co-chef of Joe Beef. But it’s the country that inspires him — and in turn, inspires his restaurant, a relatively small place in Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighborhood that has, almost despite itself, become one of the city’s most celebrated dining spots. That is, of course, thanks to McMillan, who has created the kind of place where good, unassuming food is able to thrive — and to Frederic Morin, the man behind the restaurant’s subtly innovative cooking. The restaurant has become a must-visit for anyone making their way through Montreal, including the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Momofuku’s David Chang, who lists Joe Beef as one of his all-time favorite restaurants, and even wrote the introduction to McMillan and Morin’s most recent, James Beard Award-nominated cookbook. We recently sat down with McMillan to discuss all things Montreal, the importance of classic intentions, and drinking lots of Burgundy wine.
Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
A. Every man should know about painting, from Winslow Homer to Peter Hoffer landscapes, to the tasty paintings of Peter Doig.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. Learning at 42 how to eat properly and exercise. I hate the gym or running so much I think if I could lose weight and stay healthy while being waterboarded I’d prefer that.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. I’m working on getting back to painting and my health. I’m trying to re-educate myself about eating properly.
I want to be remembered as a great father, loving husband and loyal friend. And exceedingly talented at drinking Burgundy wine.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
A. I can’t live without my Waka Waka power solar charger. I’m addicted to all things solar or renewable.
Q: Who or what influences you?
A: The Laurentian mountains of Quebec and my camp on Bark Lake.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. A book on Samuel de Champlain. I love reading about the great explorers. Also it’s important to see the faults in recorded history, as in the story of the native people. Our history would indicate that before European explorers in North America there was a great darkness here, which could not be further from the truth. The native tribes of North America were complex, varied, sophisticated, brilliant and are worth reading about and learning from. Read everything Mohawk/Iroquois to start, then all things Haida, then don’t stop.
Q. Name one thing no one knows about you.
A. One thing no one knows about me is that I’m actually very quiet and private and keep to myself outside of work.
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A. Oysters; fresh crab meat; half a mustard rabbit; Meursault white; Volnay red.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A. Nothing. I have no regrets and I’ve had a charmed life.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. I want to be remembered as a great father, loving husband and loyal friend. And exceedingly talented at drinking Burgundy wine.
Q. What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
A. The best meal I’ve ever had is generally every meal my business partner Frederic Morin has cooked for me. He’s my favorite chef and the smartest man I know.
Q. What’s your philosophy about food?
A. Food is a craft akin to woodworking — when creativity or art is applied it’s often rendered pedantic or so interesting it’s uninteresting. Classics always forever.
Q. How would you describe the food scene in Montreal right now?
A. The food scene in Montreal now is the best it’s ever been. So much young talent and disdain for pretense — just delicious, well-made food. And the wine scene is the most interesting in North America.
Q. What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?
A. My favorite restaurant is and will always be L’Express on Saint-Denis. It’s all for me. It’s the last place I’d eat in. It’s the template of all a restaurant can and should be.
Q. You recently introduced a Joe Beef Pilsner. Why brew your own beer?
A. I like pilsners to be made according to the Bavarian Purity Act, and I hate commercial beer made with Monsanto corn syrup adjuncts. I believe they should be illegal. A friend of mine has a small brewery near Joe Beef so I said, “Let’s make a poundable pils we can drink many of in one sitting.”
Q. What’s next?
A. Fred and I will start a new book in the fall. It’ll be a kind of field guide for family men who think outside the box.