We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.
Today: We chat with Meredith Erickson about Joe Beef -- the book, and the restaurant.
If you haven't gone already, Joe Beef is likely on your short list of restaurants to visit as soon as possible. (And if it's not, add it.) The small restaurant nestled in Little Burgundy is really anything but: Its food is at once loud, unapologetic, balls-to-the-wall. But it's also thoughtful and delicate -- it's where you go when you want a meal that you know you can't get anywhere else.
Of course, those of us who can't make the trek to Montreal have The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, their Piglet-winning collection of recipes. And it's almost as good as the real thing.
Full of offbeat dishes, plays on classics, and plenty of anecdotes in between, you'll only need to get a chapter deep to get where Frédéric Morin and David McMillan are coming from -- maybe it will happen when you hit their section called Building a Garden in a Crack Den. Or maybe after you read through their recipe for Hot Oysters on the Radio.
You'll spend the rest of the day reading through it anyway, and Meredith Erickson is the reason for that. She helped Frédéric and David translate their thoughts, ideas, and 135 brilliant recipes into sentences so inviting they let you lose yourself in this cookbook, novel-style. We spoke with her recently -- read on for more about how Joe Beef rolls.
You write that Joe Beef's vibe is a cross between food temple and Pee-wee's Playhouse. How does that translate into the food and the cookbook?
With the food there is a honorable dedication to technique, but also a curious irreverence. Dining Car Calf Liver, Brochette de Lapin, and Marjolaine are all examples of that. With the vibe, there is a definite clubhouse feel, as there have been many regulars since day one. Same with the staff. For example, Allison Cunningham (co-owner), Vanya (general manager and sommelier), and I were all servers the first week. To have so many of the same people still involved in the restaurant 8 years later isn't normal industry standard. The restaurant is not perfect; it's alive. And for me, that's better.
In the 2012 Piglet tournament -- which your book goes on to win -- Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton write that "this book is a free pass into the club, and the fun that Morin and McMillan serve up." If you could pick a moment in the book that exemplifies this, what would it be?
I would choose Chapter 4: "The Seaway Snack Bar."
This sentence sums it up: "We are geographically wellborn in Montreal, sitting on the shores of the seafood superhighway that is the Saint Lawrence Seaway." The decor, and (when seasonal) the seafood, inspires the Joe Beef soul. Also, for me personally, the smorgasbord recipe and concept is one of the most unique and beautiful in the book.
In the same review, they spend three paragraphs tracking down the ingredients for Pieds-Paquets with Sauce Charcutière. If I don't live in a city, or know a guy who sells black market caul fat, do I still have something to gain from the Joe Beef cookbook?
Meredith: Well, caul fat only makes a guest appearance in the recipe above, and one more. So you have the entire book minus 2 recipes! But yes, there is so much more than these choice few recipes. One chapter is devoted to the garden, another to seafood, another to trains, another to wine and drinks. And the whole, to the city of Montreal. Our goal was to tell our tale and inspire readers to recreate. But more importantly, we want you to sit back, enjoy, and have a few chuckles.
Frédéric: We think you should read the book, look at the pictures, laugh a bit, get hungry if you feel it. But if foie gras, beef, red wine, or oysters ain't your cup of tea, we aren't on a crusade to convert you. But restaurant-wise, the tarring-and-feathering of allergics and vegans for the delight of the online food crowds is over and doesn't interest me. If you want to come in and eat -- whether you're vegan, kosher, or just healthy -- we will be nice and accommodating, as we should.
Do you have a favorite recipe from the book, or a technique you've taken from it into your home kitchen?
Yes, many. The simple-yet-valuable method of cooking a strip loin -- including the Doneness Chart in the book -- is fail-proof. Over the years I've also mixed it up with the ten variations of toppings.
The Bagna Cauda and Aioli in the book are weekly staples in the summer. The Box of Pullman Loaf (a box of buttered and toasted bread) with runny scrambled eggs and caviar is a favorite decadent brunch in our house (I use Mujol, Canadian, or Tobiko -- rarely the expensive stuff). The Potato Dinner Rolls are perfect -- as they should be, since they needed to be tested 5 or 6 times before we got it right...
You walk into Joe Beef. What do Frédéric and David serve you?
The last time I walked into Joe Beef it was a Tuesday and I had one of the most memorable dishes: the Terrine Chaude de Pintade. It's a guinea fowl terrine with pork and foie gras. There's an inlay of pintade breast and it's stuffed with hedgehog mushrooms, wrapped in cabbage, and served with Charcutière Sauce and mustard. All courtesy of Marc-Olivier Frappier, Fred, and David.
Top two photos by Jennifer May; third by Eater, fourth by Sarah Shatz