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Blunt Inquiry Asks… Chef Dave McMillan


What is your idea of a perfect restaurant?
L’Express is a perfect restaurant. If I had to eat at only one restaurant for the rest of my life it would be L’Express.

What is your greatest fear at work?
That someone gets hurt. That kids cut or burn themselves, that a customer becomes aggressive… when I’m not there, I fear for the safety of my people and guests.

Which working Chef do you most admire?
I admire the real work beasts. I run three small restaurants with partners so I have it kinda easy, but a guy like Anthony Walsh and Laurent Tourondel, the guys that run multiple restaurants and turn out thousands of plates. The pressure on their home lives as well as at work is just insane, takes a special beast.

What part of work ‘you’ do you most deplore in yourself?
I have to put on a mask to go to work. Or at least in the way of what the industry asks of us today as opposed to what it used to. For me to put on my social mask and get out and speak to people is incredibly hard. I’m an introvert in an industry where you need to be an extrovert. I only want to manage, clean, cook food and listen to the radio. The industry today demands that we socialize, and do all these dinners and events… I wish I were more of an extrovert, I find the public really draining. 

What would instantly make you fire someone?
Nobody gets fired for being a bad cook or a mediocre waiter. People get fired for racism, drugs, sexism. I can train a mediocre cook. But ignorance will get you fired immediately. People have to be cool.. Poor hygiene will get you fired too.

What was your most extravagant purchase for your restaurant?
The trout pond. Fred built a trout pond in the garden that took a lot of time and energy. Its a temperature controlled trout pond that holds a couple hundred trout. We are thrifty and frugal - we still cook with 2 six burner stoves and regular pots. All the fancy equipment that’s out there now just turns everything into baby food.

What is your favourite food journey?
My most memorable is Cabane a Sucre, all the time. I am unconditionally Martin Picard’s number one fan, and his partner Marc. What they and Vincent and Emily do is more worthy than any 3 Michelin Star restaurant. Martin should receive the Order of Quebec and the Order of Canada. He is by far Canada’s most important chef and an artist of the highest order, possibly in history. No one has done, or is doing what he is. And so out of left field. He is a Canadian legend and nowhere near celebrated enough.

What words or phrases do you most overuse at work?

What do you regret most after all your years in the business?
I have no regrets about my career. I’ve had a good career. The food that Fred and Marco and I cook has always been true French . We have always stuck to 3 courses and cheese, always stuck to French bourgeois cooking - the French food that is appropriate for the great people of Montreal. Montreal has the best dining public in north America.

What do you love most about this industry?
I’m 45 years old now. I’m not as enamoured with the industry as I was in my youth. The industry is a career choice I made very young, I started at 16. I love going to work. I love my friends at work. My staff. The way we work. Everybody fits. We have so many original staff from 11 years ago. We don’t really socialize outside, we don’t have staff parties.. but I have long relationships with so many. I have so many meaningful relationships with people that I work with. They have helped me achieve my goal at Joe Beef and I try to help them as much as I can achieve theirs. I have a love hate relationship with the restaurant industry in its current form.

What is your current state of mind?
I’m good. It took us so many years to conquer anxiety. Fred and I have both had issues with anxiety because we were so overworked for so many years. To be free of intense anxiety is a good place to be. But it comes back once in a while. I believe we may be happy somewhat.

If you could change anything about the restaurant industry where you are, what would it be?
Nothing. It’s none of my business. I mind my Ps and Qs. I support my peers in whatever they want to do. I have 3 restaurants to run and my staff to manage. Whatever anyone else does is their own thing. I’m no one to criticize others.

What do you consider your most essential ingredient?

The work/life balance struggle is real. How good of a juggler are you? Tips?
I’m blessed to have great partners, Fred, Allison. I’ve been working with Fred for 20+ years. And Marco, my staff… Vanya is essential at maintaining Fred’s and my sanity. She filters out who we should talk to – the firewalls we have put in place… We have made it really fucking hard to get to us for nonsense. So we can focus on the food and wine, managing the things that matter. The other demands that are put on our time, we are good at avoiding.

What is your most treasured kitchen tool?
We like that big old smoker behind Joe Beef. Fred built it 7 years go. It’s an invention of Fred’s. It’s like a hot cabinet, a hot slow cooker. It’s a good machine, everything that comes out of that machine tastes real good. And the Joe Beef garden as well. It’s a great tool. Instead of suppliers, I can get a radish from the earth to your plate in 3 seconds. You can pick your own damn tomatoes and I can serve them to you seconds later with just sea salt. If I make you a salad from the garden it’s an automatic win.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Restaurant Plumbing.

When you finally retire, were will you live?
I’ll live in the Laurentians, trolling for lake trout.

What is your most marked characteristic?
I think I’m a good host. A generous host from what I understand. 

What is the quality you most like in a chef?
Humility and impeccable hygiene.

What is your greatest inspiration/motivation?
I think we all work for our kids. Fred has 3 beautiful children, I have 3 beautiful children. The first part of our lives in the kitchen is hard, working towards our goal. Now we realize how important family and kids are. I love having babies and young children at Joe Beef. A screaming baby in the dining room doesn’t bother me at all.  I wish people could bring their dogs. Like when I was in the south of France and people were bringing giant mastiffs into restaurants, it was amazing. The whole point of what we do is eating and drinking and you should be able to enjoy that with your family…and your dog.

Superman or Spiderman?
I don’t watch TV, and I have 3 girls so.. My Little Pony maybe.

What is the first thing you remember cooking?
Fear, anxiety, intense emotions. I always worked for wacko French chefs early on. So I got the screaming and throwing pans. I only ever worked for eccentric characters. I learned from them how not to be like them.

Beck or Clapton?

You have to cook Escoffier’s death row meal. Menu?
We still work from Escoffier now..

It’d be oysters, terrines mustard rabbits, Buttered noodles. Époisses cheese with toasted bread and eclairs .

Favourite kitchen word or phrase?
Grease trap .




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