When we opened Joe Beef in Montreal in 2005, we knew exactly what we wanted to be: a small restaurant serving homemade Canadian food, focusing on the best local ingredients, with a short menu we could change every day. And we wanted to cook as we pleased. If we're excited about goat, we serve it every day for three weeks, until our customers can't handle it anymore and we can't eat any more of it.
We didn't want anyone to come into Joe Beef and feel scared or belittled by the food. So there's always something democratic, like smoked meat on a hot dog bun with girolles (chanterelles). We never serve course after course in a formal way. We bring out the girolles hot dogs, and you have them with Riesling; then, as you're drinking and eating, the smoked fish comes out and you crack open another bottle of wine. Bang, the lamb shows up and another bottle of wine. That's eating Quebec-style: It's loud and fasta cacophony! This is why high-end restaurants always fail in Montreal. We just can't stand being quiet.
The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts is due out October 2011.
Canadian Food: Dave and Fred's Quebec Travel Guide
We go for long drives to get away from the phone and other distractions. Sometimes we head out to Kamouraska, where we both have family, and visit our favorite purveyors along the way. Kamouraska is about five hours from Montreal, on the St. Lawrence River. We take Route 132, which runs right along the south bank. On the 132, it's like ancient France; some of the people there probably don't even know that Jimmy Carter isn't the US president anymore. It's quite remote.
At St-Roch-des-Aulnaies, on Route 132, we stop by a mill called La Seigneurie des Aulnaies to pick up buckwheat flour. The mill is still powered by water, and we swear it gives the flour a distinctive texture. It's a baker's dream. We use the buckwheat to make the crackers we serve with smoked fish and lemon crème fraîche.
Then we get to Kamouraska. The smell of salt from the river is really strong there. You can take a kayak out for only 10 minutes and see a pod of beluga whales. They pop up everywhere!
The fishing is amazing: You can pull 500-pound halibuts out of the river, and sturgeon, too. In fact, the father of the fishmonger at Poissonnerie Lauzier (where we buy our smoked fish) pulled out a 485-pound halibut.
In Kamouraska, we use an outdoor wood-fired oven to cook our classic agneau boulanger (French for baker's lamb). In the old days, women would pick up bread and drop off lamb to cook all day in the dying fires of the baker's oven.
The story of Kamouraska's Niemand Bakery: One of the best bakers in Germany meets a Quebec girl and builds Quebec's best bakery in a Victorian house on the shores of the St. Lawrence River. Walk in and you'll see big windows overlooking the waterbut they're for the bakers to look through, not the customers. Niemand's pastry is so buttery. The crisp, pointy croissants are the best. We use our leftovers in a pumpkin pie-croissant pudding.
Just 20 minutes outside of Kamouraska, in the town of La Pocatière, we pick up organic dried sausages from Grelots Bâtons. The workers wear hairnets and the place is all stainless steel, but it's still artisanal and charming, and they make the best pork sausage. We add the sausage to our barley soup laced with Scotch. Fred came up with the idea while sitting on a combine in a barley field with his uncle. The soup evokes the barley field, the salty air from the river, the peat marshes.
Why Canadian Food Buffs Dave and Fred Love France
We speak English at Joe Beef and our other Montreal restaurant, Liverpool House, but we speak French at home. France is the best. We collect old French menus. We're totally into master chefs like Georges Blanc (of Restaurant Georges Blanc in Burgundy). He's amazing, but nobody talks about him anymore. And Paul Bocuse! We get tears in our eyes when we see pictures of him.
We also love French wine. There's wine, and then there is Burgundy. Burgundy is like women in Paris: No makeup, no bra and they are the hottest women you've ever seen. You can drink several Burgundies and not feel exhausted. They make you feel like you're doing cardio. They make you feel like Superman! We don't want publicly traded wine made by scientists wearing lab coats. That has nothing to do with a small restaurant and handmade foods.
A Few Favorite Burgundies
The chefs at Joe Beef prefer wines made in very small quantities.
2008 Domaine Dublère Volnay 1er Cru Les Pitures ($40)
Focused, elegant Pinot Noir from an American winemaker in the Côte de Beaune.
2008 Dominique Cornin Pouilly-Fuissé 1er Cru Les Chevrières ($40)
Dominique and Romain Cornin farm this 50-year-old Chardonnay vineyard biodynamically.
2009 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Saint-Aubin 1er Cru En Remilly ($45)
Minerally white Burgundy from an up-and-coming Côte de Beaune producer.