It’s hard to summarize just what The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts is in terms of a cookbook, for no other Montreal, or for that matter North American, book that has been published really compares.
Put out by the team behind restaurants Joe Beef, Liverpool House and the McKiernan Luncheonette, chefs David McMillan and Frédéric Morin with Meredith Erickson, this no-holds-barred art-of-living guide offers so much more than 135 bold and brilliantly written recipes. The book also features large sections on Montreal history, a chapter devoted to Canadian train travel and train menus, the story of how they built three restaurants in one of Montreal’s seediest neighbourhoods, and a section that is affectionately titled “Building a Garden in a Crack Den.”
In terms of the latter, the title simply refers to how the restaurant was able to build a box garden on a back-lot that was once littered with trash, cigarette butts and drug paraphernalia and has since bloomed into something majestic that fuels the souls of those who tend to it as well as the restaurant’s dishes.
Besides being an incredibly beautiful book on food and culture in Montreal and the surrounding regions, the book is also an invigorating read, laden with quirky facts and abounding in hilarious adages.
A prime example is found at the end of a recipe for Spaghetti Homard-Lobster. The final instruction for the dish is to “garnish with parsley and serve family style (turn on the TV and start fighting).”
Catching up with McMillan, the Nation was able to get a glimpse of what can be deemed as more of an experience than simply a cookbook.
“We are historically minded when we work. We are aware of history, time and place of what we are doing.
“The food is not copied; we are a lot older now and so we don’t care what the chefs are doing in Las Vegas or NYC, we couldn’t give a flying f**k. And so, because of perhaps not reading about current cooking scenes and not watching the Food Network, our food is taking a turn to authentic as opposed to the copied,” explained McMillan.
In terms of the recipes, McMillan said the book is about the cooking of the Atlantic northeast and so there are lots of recipes for oysters, smoked fish, smoked eel and eel nuggets plus a great deal of French cooking so the book also features beef, liver and duck dishes.
At the same time, there are a lot of throwbacks to what was Montreal cuisine and the cuisine of train travel and so there is number of old hotel and train car menus published throughout the book.
While McMillan explained that in terms of recipe selection, the book reflects what is available and best to eat within a 1000-mile radius of Montreal, it also reflects how the city has had a dining scene for so much longer than the rest of North America.
McMillan said Montrealers have always been more “adventurous eaters”, having eaten things like duck, goose, deer and moose.
“Even a somewhat uneducated family eats all kinds of awesome things because culturally we are adventurous eaters and we have a wide variety of amazing products because of our French and European history. In NYC there are these gorgeous restaurants that look like they have been there forever, but the most adventurous thing they have on the menu is beef.
“I asked the chef about liver and he told me that he couldn’t give it away for free. So I asked him about rabbit and he said that they just wouldn’t eat it. Then I said what about horse meat and he told me that he would have been run out of town. Meanwhile I sell loads of horse,” said McMillan.
A true delight for anyone who fancies themselves a budding foodie or an all-out Cordon Bleu chef, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef features recipes that encompass Montrealers’ love of smoked meats, passion for oysters and seafood and spirits while telling a series of stories on how these meals made it to the plate.
This isn’t just a cookbook, it’s an education and one incredibly worth indulging in.