Canada does not have a great track record when it comes to cookbooks inspired by our best restaurants. Indeed, for every Canadian restaurant that has published an accompanying cookbook domestically, one could name five deserving spots that didn’t (to say nothing of a few undeserving ones that did). Thankfully, superb cookbook publishers like New York’s Ten Speed Press occasionally glance northward in search of talent, and when they do they invariably find gems like Montreal eatery Joe Beef.
The Art of Living According to Joe Beef is a glorious, gluttonous, and eccentric celebration of the recipes and joie de vivre behind three Montreal restaurants co-owned Frédéric Morin and David McMillan. (Co-
author Meredith Erickson is a journalist and former Joe Beef staffer.) There’s the titular outpost, a slacker haven of cuisine du marché, with a junk-shop chic décor and an address in the working-class neighbourhood of Little Burgundy. Then there’s the more airy Liverpool House up the block, and McKiernan Luncheonette, a tiny brunch/lunch spot in the other direction.
These restaurants represent a culinary movement that has been inching for some years into non-gentrified urban neighbourhoods across North America, pairing an artfully casual and ironic aesthetic with artisanal and obsessive cooking. Call it the hipsterization of gastronomy; the trend has produced food that is often as surprising as it is delicious.
For example, The Art of Living provides an evolution, if you will, of KFC’s infamous Double Down “sandwich,” in this case substituting slabs of breaded foie gras for bread. Then there’s the trashy Velveeta éclair, which is exactly what the name suggests: Velveeta in choux pastry, with the addition of mashed potato, foie gras, currants, and bacon. Did I say the food is surprising? I meant to say downright weird.
These two recipes are outrageous examples, but in general, The Art of Living is inspired by this kind of gustatory excess. This is extreme French food, in a book that deserves to be pored over and savoured. The Art of Living puts the lie to anyone who says Canadian restaurant cookbooks cannot be great.