Maverick Montreal chefs Frederic Morin and David McMillan are the envy of many of their peers these days for achieving widespread acclaim while staying true to their modest values.
With a low budget, a focus on local ingredients and a salty sensibility, the candid cooks — along with partner Allison Cunningham, Morin’s wife — opened the small, rustic restaurant Joe Beef in the working-class Little Burgundy neighbourhood in 2005.
It took $60,000 and two months to build, and today it’s a bona fide hit — one that has spawned the cosy Liverpool House and is superstar chef David Chang’s “favourite restaurant in the world,” according to his foreword in the new book, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts (Ten Speed Press).
“We kind of proved that three people can make a living from a 30-seat restaurant,” McMillan said in an interview.
“People say, ‘Oh my God, the restaurant business is so many hours, how do you do it?’ Get a partner and don’t be greedy, you know what I’m saying? For real. Fred works two or three days a week, or four if he wishes. I do the exact same — and if I’m not there, he’s there. If he’s not there, I’m there.”
“If you prep for dinner and it takes you more than two days in the restaurant to prep for opening, you’re doing food that’s way too complicated,” said Morin, a graduate of L’Ecole Hoteliere des Laurentides.
Foie Gras Breakfast Sandwich
Sear the foie gras with a generous amount of salt, using a good pan, working fast and having a tray and tongs at hand before you begin.
2 thin slices Canadian back bacon or peameal bacon
1 English muffin, split
30 ml (2 tbsp) canola oil
125 g (4 oz) fresh duck or goose foie gras, 2 cm (3/4 inch) thick
Salt and pepper, to taste
175 ml (3/4 cup) maple syrup
125 ml (1/2 cup) Dijon mustard
15 ml (1 tbsp) mustard seeds
2 ml (1/2 tsp) pepper
Maple Mustard: In a heavy saucepan, bring maple syrup to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for about 6 minutes or until bubbles increase in size. Remove from heat, let cool for about 3 minutes, then whisk in Dijon, mustard seeds and pepper. Let cool completely before using. Maple mustard stores well in a tightly capped container in the fridge for at least a couple of weeks.
The best thing for making this sandwich is one of those plug-in flat, non-stick griddles, the kind the tasting people have in the grocery store. You can cook the egg, bacon and muffin on the griddle while you blast the liver on the stove top.
Preheat oven to 180 C (350 F); this is to keep the bacon warm after cooking or to blast the foie gras if need be.
Heat griddle to medium-high. Cook bacon until edges are golden brown and lightly crispy. Fry egg over easy and toast cut sides of English muffin.
In a frying pan, heat oil over high heat. When frying pan is superhot, add liver and cook, turning once, until nicely coloured. You want a good colour on the foie gras, kind of like the skin of a roasted chicken. This will take only a minute or two total in a very hot pan.
Remember to flip liver away from you so you don’t splash your belly.
Carefully transfer liver to a baking sheet. If liver is still hard to the touch, put it in the oven for a minute or two. The fat that collects in the baking sheet (but not the fat from the frying pan) is good to drizzle on the muffin.
Now build your sandwich: start with a muffin half, cut side up, and top it with bacon, egg and foie gras. Drizzle stack with a little mustard, sprinkle with salt and pepper and top with remaining muffin half.
Makes 1 serving.
The best fries are done with potatoes that have never seen the cold. If you don’t have a deep fryer, they recommend using a 5-litre (5-quart) thick-bottomed, high-sided pot and a deep-frying thermometer.
The name for the escargot butter comes from its use, not its contents, and it’s basically garlic butter, the chefs write in their book.
4 large russet potatoes
Oil, for deep-frying
Escargot Butter (recipe follows — optional)
50 ml (1/4 cup) grated pecorino cheese (optional)
Peel potatoes and cut into 1-cm (1/2-inch) sticks (about the size of a Crayola crayon).
Place sticks in a deep bowl, sprinkle in 15 ml (1 tbsp) salt, and mix with your hands. Pour in just enough hot tap water to cover. Let sit for 1 hour.
Drain potatoes, rinse well in cold water and dry well with a salad spinner or a kitchen towel.
Pour oil to a depth of 7.5 cm (3 inches) into a deep fryer and heat to 125 C (260 F).
Working in batches, fry potatoes for 4 to 6 minutes or until almost tender. Drain in basket and place on a baking sheet.
Heat oil in fryer to 185 C (360 F) in preparation for a quick double fry.
Again, working in batches, fry potatoes briefly to crisp them up but not colour the outside. They should still be a nice blond colour.
Scoop them out of the oil, let oil heat up again to 185 C (360 F), and then fry them one last time until crisp. Do the taste test to see if they are ready, then pat dry with paper towels.
Serve immediately sprinkled with salt. Toss in butter and/or cheese, if desired.
Makes 4 servings.
500 g (1 lb) salted butter, room temperature
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or more
125 ml (1/2 cup) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
45 ml (3 tbsp) breadcrumbs
50 ml (1/4 cup) almond powder
50 ml (1/4 cup) pastis (anise-flavoured aperitif)
5 ml (1 tsp) salt
2 ml (1/2 tsp) pepper
4 drops Tabasco sauce
In a food processor, combine all ingredients until creamy. Scoop into a bowl, cover and refrigerate.