David McMillan

Expert Holiday Tips

The duo behind Montréal’s decadent Joe Beef, David McMillan and Frédéric Morin, are experts at satisfying crowds. Here, David’s best holiday entertaining tips (read Frédéric’s tips here).

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What are your favorite holiday food gifts?

I like to give unusual honeys. I was brought up on roast chicken brushed with raw honey; you never cook with it, just brush some on the sliced poultry at the end. It’s good on squash, too, and roast turkey. Last year I gave out a beautiful honey from the Pitcairn Islands, which you can order online; it’s made by descendants of the mutiny of the Bounty. I like the story behind it, and the interesting wildflower taste. There are some Montrealers who make a Miels d’Anicet. They take their beehives deep into the woods of northern Quebec. They barely know what the bees are pollinating, but their honeys taste of burnt orange and coffee, sometimes Earl Grey or Darjeeling tea, it’s amazing what they get.

What’s your favorite holiday cocktail?

I like a drink called an Island No. 7. It’s a gin and tonic with crushed cedar. You crush the cedar with your hands to release the essential oils, then drop it into your gin and tonic. I run it at the restaurant once in a while, but it’s this cocktail from Barkmere, Quebec, an ancient weird community of lake cottages that’s kind of a secret. A lot of the cottages are off the grid, so you don’t always have lime on hand. So when you make a tall gin and tonic, you crush a branch of cedar and put it in your glass, and sip on it as you work throughout the day.

Can you share some entertaining tips?

Pour low-alcohol wine. When you go to the liquor store, take a close look at the labels to find the ABV percentage, and buy wines that are below 12 percent if you can. You may have family over who aren’t accustomed to wine, and there’s a lot of bad wine out there that’s 15 to 16 percent ABV. Grandma’s going to have one glass and she’ll be lights out. Around the holidays, I also don’t want to drink mythological, pretentious wines, I want to drink super easy wines that are vibrant as well as low-alcohol. That almost always means Old World wines, like a Muscadet to go with our traditional Quebec oysters. We might move onto Chablis with our appetizers, then always either a delicious Beaujolais or a simpler Burgundy, like a village appellation—but again watch the alcohol! When I drink three glasses of 14 percent wine, I’m exhausted.

There’s also nothing wrong with adding water to your wine, or sparkling water to make a spritzer—and a spritzer can be 1 ounce of wine and 4 ounces of soda. I have Italian friends who make them with Coca-Cola or 7-Up—half wine, half 7-Up, ice cubes, they love it. You can even serve it in a Champagne glass. It lets people to go the distance and always have a beverage in their hands.

What’s your most requested recipe, the one dish you’re most known for?

I would say the foie gras double-down, and for our regular business customers we do a pretty good business in schnitzel. The double-down is a sandwich of two deep-fried pieces of foie gras as the “bread,” with a filling of bacon and cheddar, drizzled with maple syrup. Right now we’re doing it as a Reuben. We first did it as a joke—we were laughing at food media one day, and decided to come up with the perfect lure. We started sending them out whenever a blogger came in. As we predicted, the dish took off on social media and turned into our little nightmare, and now we’re trapped into making it. I would never eat it, I think it’s disgusting. We also have a core clientele of businessmen who eat at Joe Beef every day, and for them a pretty standard dish is our delicious pork schnitzel with a little sunny-side egg, a fillet of anchovy, a slice of tomato and béarnaise sauce. That’s delicious.

What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?

La Cuisine du Marché, by Paul Bocuse. If any chef tells you he’s cooked his entire way through that book, he’s a liar. I feel that maybe when I get to be 80 I’ll have understood half of it. All books should be judged by it. Unfortunately, it’s also hard to find now. But I have hundreds of cookbooks and that’s the only one on my bedside table, and has been for 20 years.

What’s one technique everyone should know?

Choux pastry. If you need to know how to make it, a thousand guys on YouTube will be happy to show you, including many master chefs. It’s versatile, you can use it in sweet and savory dishes like éclairs and gougères. Or here’s a fun dish that people should do more often, which I had at a little restaurant in Beaune: Make a choux pastry with a small handful of grated Comté cheese for extra cheesy flavor. Shape it into four big choux pastry balls, big like a softball. Once they’re baked, cut off their tops. Pull the meat from a leftover rotisserie chicken and fold it into a simple fast stew, made with a béchamel or some stock thickened with a roux, along with some sautéed mushrooms, carrots, onion and celery. A savory choux, filled with chicken stew? It’s like the American bread bowl soup, but the real way.