Joe Beef’s Frédéric (Fred) Morin is a "great chef because he isn’t one."
At least that’s according to his cohort, David McMillan, the other half of Joe Beef. “He’s a great wood worker, gardener, dad, tinkerer,” he says. “Fred always takes the detour and enjoys the scenery.”
That kind of unconventional compliment from Morin's creative partner speaks volumes about the duo's philosophical outlook in the kitchen—a worldview that has informed their mini-empire in Montreal’s St-Henri neighborhood. There’s the famed Joe Beef, which opened in 2005, and is often regarded as your favorite chef’s favorite restaurant (Anthony Bourdain and David Chang have vouched for this palace of gluttony). Then there’s the adjacent Beef-lite Liverpool House, as well as wine bar Le Vin Papillon. Local grocery stores also carry a few items baring the Joe Beef name, which is helpful since it can still take months to get a reservation.
Morin and McMillan have also managed to establish the brand by following their own intuition. Beef’s décor is more informal than upscale, the revolving menu is scrawled on a blackboard, and in the past they’ve espoused the virtues of economical items such as Spam. Musings on the tinned treat, instructions to build a backyard smoker, and non-food stories like a recap of Fred’s favorite train trips can be found in their book, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts, which came out in 2012.
"Not caring about making something delicious and just throwing it on the pan—it’s like a handjob without looking."
Chef Hugh Acheson, who used to work at Montreal’s Buona Notte when Morin was across the street at Globe, has his own theory as to why Joe Beef became an institution: “It is a restaurant where, from the moment you get there, you just want to be there—to enjoy it, to relish in it, to be sated by it. To me, it is the most palpably authentic restaurant in North America. I think that Joe Beef is now carving a path to a true Quebecois cuisine. Rich, and maybe a little gluttonous, but really rad.”
But Morin doesn’t necessarily speak like a chef with a world-renowned restaurant: He’s a philosopher with non-sequiturs. His Twitter feed, by his own admission, borders on incoherence, with the odd tweet (or two) about Kim Kardashian. The same free association applies to his views about the dogma of recipes.
“I find the go-to recipes fuck people up a little,” he observes. “Because if someone is missing an ingredient, they’re like, ‘we can’t do it.’ You have to have a better sense of your culinary environment than that.” His advice for anyone looking to create a great meal isn’t to follow any golden rule—just care enough to go the extra mile.
“Not caring about making something delicious and just throwing it on the pan—it’s like a handjob without looking,” he says. “If you’re technically sound, if you’re generous, if you’re kind and you have empathy for the people you work with and cook for, it will go well. But I can’t say it’s my famous Cobb salad or lobster spaghetti that will make it happen.”
Here, the 40-year-old Quebecer touches on the meals that made a lasting mark on his life.