On Monday night I hosted a sold-out City Bites Live event at Urban Element, a celebration of the cookbook The Art of Living According to Joe Beef. The book’s co-authors, Frédéric Morin and David McMillan — also the chef-owners of the restaurant Joe Beef — were the guests of honour. They were charming, irreverent, entertaining, and insightful and their good humour swept through the room, setting the tone for a fabulous night of eating, drinking, and gabbing.
From the food world perspective, it’s no exaggeration to say 2011 was the year of Joe Beef. Montreal’s Little Burgundy neighbourhood bistro is adored by everyone from Lesley Chesterman – the Gazette’s food critic who gave it a rating of 4 out of 4 – to celebrity chefs like Anthony Bourdain and David Chang, who calls Joe Beef his favorite restaurant in the world. The Joe Beef cookbook has topped just about every best cookbook list in North America from Martha Stewart to Bon Appétit and recently even won over Alice Waters, the godmother of the farm to fork ethos.
During the Q&A portion of the evening, Fred and David spoke a lot about their interest in staying connected to the history of the city in which they live and work. It was that desire that led them to resurrect the name Joe Beef, the nickname of the legendary 19th century innkeeper and working class hero Joseph McKiernan, and give it second and third lives in the form of their restaurant and now, as a cookbook of sorts. They have described Joe Beef as a cross between a food temple and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Anyone who has been there will understand why. There’s a unique playfulness, a sense of whimsy, and an unpretentiousness that permeates everything from its attitude and décor, to its charming service, right down to the food on the round—never square—plates featuring things like truffled beer-can chicken or their version of the KFC double down made with lobes of fried foie gras.