The duo behind Montréal’s decadent Joe Beef, David McMillan and Frédéric Morin, are experts at satisfying crowds. Here, Frédéric’s best holiday entertaining tips (read David’s tips here).
What are your favorite holiday food gifts?
In general I tend to not offer food gifts or books about food, to clear myself a little from what we do every day. One key exception: Fine fruit spirits, like Poire Williams with a pear inside. A glass of chilled Poire Williams is perfect after a big holiday meal.
I used to enjoy giving people knives, but I’ve become superstitious; they say knives should always be traded for money or they’ll cut friendship or family bonds. Of course, you can always lend the person $2 when you give them knife, and have them pay you the $2 back to “buy” it.
I love copper pans. For David’s birthday I bought him the biggest sautoir Mauviel sells, a shallow copper pan about 2-feet wide, with a lid and a super thick cast-iron handle. I don’t think it even fits in an oven.
Some might not consider it good form to give something used, but sometimes people have old Creuset pots and dishes lying around that they don’t use, and I think it’s wonderful to give them as gifts. An old orange Creuset with a little bit of flame on it—I almost prefer the old ones to the new.
What’s your favorite holiday cocktail?
Year-round I like cocktails that are pretty simple, like Campari and soda, or gin and tonic. Right now I love a cocktail with soda water, where the ice is big and cold and the soda water is so bubbly that it itches. Take a 2-ounce pour of Johnny Walker and a good splash of super bubbly water over cold, cold ice—ice that doesn’t melt and dilute the drink. When your drink sparkles till the end, and stays ice-cold, that, for me, is the perfect cocktail.
Can you share some entertaining tips?
Sometimes when you go to people’s houses and they want to impress you too much, it’s like watching a train crash. To host people properly, it shouldn’t be about how many courses you can make. You can easily serve a Creuset of something straight from the oven, like a braised whole veal shank, or a whole fat duck, or two deer necks nestled side by side with some parsnips and red wine. Make a perfect pommes puree and bring it all to the table. People are going to be more satisfied because they can eat in your company happy.
To make the meal even easier, skip dessert: buy some super beautiful fruits, or poach some pears or prunes in wine the day before, and then go nuts on the cheese course: Something as simple as a little pot of some super mild fromage blanc with a pot of jam, or the stinkiest round of époisse you can find, and let people serve themselves.
What’s your most requested recipe, the one dish you’re most known for?
I would say our lobster spaghetti. Everywhere else in the world, unless you’re on the Maine coast, if you order lobster, you get a half tail on top of a risotto or something. At Joe Beef, you get a full lobster cut into chunks, tossed with spaghetti like a carbonara. And it’s made contrary to the contemporary rules of pasta cooking: We don’t cook the pasta à la minute, we don’t use any pasta cooking water in the sauce, but it’s still delicious.
What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?
Larousse Gastronomique, the second edition that was printed in France in 1984, then translated into English in 1988. It came out during a key transition period in French cooking, almost like the shift in shipping from sail power to steam. The classics are still in there along with more modern dishes by Robuchon and Loiseau. And unlike the very first edition, whose photographs weren’t that great, the second edition has some incredible pictures, like the dessert table at Maison Troisgros.
What’s one technique everyone should know?
How to season properly with more than just salt. If you look in our book, you’ll get the idea. Just like you bring your dancing shoes for a night of dancing, when you go to season your dish, you should be armed with a something to sweeten it, something to acidify it like vinegar or lemon juice, and something to warm it up, like white or black pepper or cayenne. Take mayonnaise: People who like French fries with mayonnaise could eat literally a cup of mayo. But if I were to put that much oil in a glass in front of you, you’d never be able to drink it. By emulsifying the oil into mayonnaise, then seasoning it with the acidity and sweetness of the lemon, the warmth of black pepper, mustard or cayenne, and then salt, all those seasonings together make a cup of oil palatable.