Tag Archives: Joe Beef

Joe Beef: A Philosophy of Quebec Cuisine

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Montreal remains the place where I feel most at home. It is a city with simple aspirations; it is a city focused on quality, local food prepared in an avante garde culinary style. People in Quebec appreciate wine, soft lighting, conversation at dinner, laughter and sensuality. It is a city that has changed my life purpose three times and influenced how I live with more with every visit. The past two nights were no exception, yet exceptional nonetheless.

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My usual destination in Montreal is Martin Picard’s Au Pied Du Cochon on Duluth Street, but for this visit we chose to try our luck with Joe Beef, the brainchild of David MacMillan and Frederic Morin. A favourite with superstar chefs like David Chang and Anthony Bourdain, Joe Beef has the street cred to make it worth a three month ahead reservation.

What was it like? Nothing like we expected, but beautiful in its darkness and lush food. First, I hope you read French. The ever-changing chalkboard menu is wholly francophonic, and difficult to see in the evening lights. Secondly, one needs a sense of adventure, a trust in your waiter, and a willingness to try new flavours. Our dinner consisted of 8 maritime oysters in the raw, two sea urchin, a pork and chicken tender terrine served next to a slab of perfectly chilled foie gras, a New Brunswick lake trout in a salty mortadella sauce, a large filet of cheval, and a side of Parmesan frites. I was also shamed into a whimsical peppermint soft serve ice cream on molten chocolate cake. Two bottles of Bourgogne wine and two of the better cafe Americano I have had in a long time. Final bill: $350.

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A visit to Joe Beef is not just about the food. A visit to this minor Mecca is about coming to understand a food philosophy and flavour palette that one cannot find in Toronto, New York or Chicago. The fact that horse meat was on the menu and lauded by the waiter as the best food in the house, would never be supported in a town where people are disconnected from their food and its sources. How many places serve chicken, beef and fish from parts unknown? Joe Beef knows the horse is from Pennsylvania, and the arguments for its consumption in recent Globe and Mail articles are compelling. The flavour falls between beef for texture and pork for flavour complexity. I will not crave cheval in my dreams, but it was a transformational dish in terms of how I interpret flavours for my own cooking style.

In relation to that, the reason for a food photographer and home cook to visit a restaurant like Joe Beef is to experience how food can be prepared honestly and simply. The terrine chaude was my favourite dish. I had never thought to warm a terrine, and this one was perfect in its composition. In contrast to the heavenly foie gras in a cool, classic sauce, the terrine made me want to prepare my own version this week; to build a family recipe for posterity and years of expectant enjoyment.

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We drank Burgundy region wines, as they were suggested in the Joe Beef restaurant book, and I could certainly see how their simple, clean flavours work with the rich, salty, complex flavours in the food. In the end, Joe Beef is a one time visit for me. I get it, I loved it, and it was worth the money; I simply prefer the gluttony and Gargantuan nature of Au Pied du Cochon more. Life is short; eat what you dream of in the darkest of Winter nights.

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From a different perspective, and after a smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli, we decided to stay at The Fairmont’s Les Voyageurs Bar for dinner on the second night. Partly due to getting a slight chill while trekking up Mont Royal, and partly due to a $100 credit from hitting Platinum status on 2013’s trips out West and Ottawa, we stayed inside this classic hotel from the train era. After a dozen oysters from the PEI bay where I bought property next to this year we went with a cheese plate of Quebec cheeses accompanied by an absolutely perfect bottle of Quebec white wine. The price was a reasonable $150, and the experience was matched with our expectations: good hotel food from the locality.

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Our final moments this morning were spent lingering over coffee, cheap Bordeaux and a wickedly rich collection of French pastry, baguettes filled with smoked salmon and a feuillete containing a bechamel and ham centre. Perhaps that is what Montreal offers: multiple, magnificent moments unlike anywhere else. These were moments welcome and stolen from a cold winter season.

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The Clodhammer: Perfect Bison with Roasted Beets and Stilton Cheese

BisonI am a carnivore. I do not want to be, because I love living animals, but then again, I suppose I love dead ones, too. Tonight had me returning from dropping off last week’s work for Paderno to the post office, and then on a stroll to The Healthy Butcher to see if I learned anything from the Butchery 103 class that I attended last week. During the workshop the butcher, David Meli, had given priceless advice on choosing cuts of meat that showed value and prime eating. While I will not list those cuts blatantly, over the course of the next month I will be attempting to present a perfect preparation of the cut while photographing it with the Linhof 4×5 camera and Fotodiox adapter.

At the Healthy Butcher on Queen Street West, I ran into David who was amused to see me at the counter. We didn’t speak during the course on Wednesday, so this gave a chance to introduce myself and explain in the simplest way possible what exactly I do for a living. The first piece of meat that I decided to prepare was “The Clodhammer.” No, you will not find it at a grocery store where the focus is on t-bones, filets, rib-eyes or prime rib, but this has to be the best cut of meat that I have ever taken into my kitchen: period.

Bison from The Healthy ButcherThe Clodhammer comes from the rotator cuff in a larger animal like a cow, elk or bison. In my case, I went with a strip of meat from the bison. Bison is a lean meat, and would not be a choice for roasting in my mind, but the Clodhammer is built for high heat searing and medium rare presentation. I truly wished I still possessed my Wolf stove for this dish, but that was another life with other problems. Setting up the camera is always a disaster for a long strip of meat, especially when I do not bring out the Profoto lights. Both of these images were captured at f.16 with a Schneider-Kreuznach large format lens on the Linhof 4×5 Color body. Eating and photographing meat is a challenge, because it has to be warm and fresh for the photo, but that only gives you about two minutes post resting to get the shot…then the meat is not ideal for eating warmth, but that is the cost of photographing it in the first place, I suppose.

Flavour on this piece was deep and round. It was soft like a perfectly beef tenderloin at cut rate cost. I paid $9 and change for what should have been two to three servings. To accentuate the richness of the meat I wanted to go overboard with English Stilton cheese that I picked up for 66% off at Cheese Boutique on Saturday, and the roasted beets I did last night. David Meli had suggested letting either butter or cheese sit upon the meat during resting to absorb its fat into the flesh. I am not certain this worked, but it tasted like it made a difference. As a full meal, this single piece of meat with the cheese and beets was perfect. Given that I am reading a lot of Joe Beef Restaurant’s cooking philosophy, I also decided to pair the bison with a Burgundy wine. Nirvana could aspire to the feelings my body is now exuding after consuming such a glorious dinner. The only thing that would have made it better would be to share it with loved ones, family or friends; alas, only Mingus and India could partake in the dinner with tidbits reserved for their dainty palettes.Last night’s beet salad tower also connected deeply in a rich, earthy tone. My friend Millage’s beets proved exceptional and balanced out well with the chèvre and the white truffle oil/ fleur de sel combination. I would mention the Eggplant Parmesan I cooked, too, but that will be added to an upcoming meal. Why so much cooking? I am not sure. I feel pretty unfocused right now with V. heading to Thunder Bay and the school year about to begin. Maybe the culinary perfection is coming from a need to refocus my energies into what I do best, or maybe reading David Chang’s writing in Lucky Peach Magazine has inspired me to cut out the pretence and cook like my hair is on fire.

Final thought: I grabbed umami paste at The Healthy Butcher. I had never heard of umami until this week when it appeared all over Lucky Peach. As the reputed 5th taste, I thought that I would pounce on a tube and try it with a few dishes next week. I am not exactly certain you to use it, but that will be the best part of the experiment. I also heard from a person who reads this blog and complimented what I do, which is nice when one writes into the void of the web without reply but fifty-odd thousand views. So many thanks to those who take the time to read my musings and of my adventures; the best is always yet to come…

Pasta on the Home Front: Eine Kleine Abendessen

The challenge of photographing food and products all week long is to ensure that you neither eat too much nor too little. My day felt like it was never going to end as I prepped for one shot after another with only Mingus to talk to about what was coming next. As noted earlier, I made a wicked chickpea tapas, but when the time came to eat it, I fancied something else. Rifling through the fridge I found the fresh linguine I made last weekend, and decided to prepare linguine and morel mushrooms in a heavy cream sauce. Earthy, carb-filled and sleep inducing, this simple dish was exactly what my body craved before retiring to bed for an action-packed night of reading Joe Beef restaurant’s cook book and lifestyle manual.

For this photograph, I decided to use the Hasselblad CB 60mm lens. The morels were dried, but that is a perfect way to ensure one always has them on hand. Indeed, special items are what takes simple meals towards extraordinary dinners. The morels, pine nuts, truffle oil, artichoke hearts in oil, sun-dried tomatoes in oil or even a jar of chocolate fudge sauce can make or break your ability to turn out a grand plate for guests or yourself. Saturday I will visit friends at their home north of Toronto, and that means my car rental will allow me to do one of my semi-annual pantry purchases. As I grew up in a time when food supplies were taken in during the Fall for the long Winter ahead, I continue to purchase my main goods in large quantities; money is saved, and a sense of security is to be had from have enough mainstays to survive a few months at a time should the world or your life become quirky.

A 20lb bag of flour, two 5lb bags of white sugar, canned goods, a hunk of beef to break down for the freezer, olive oil, jams, yeast, lard, ketchup and countless other items will fill my trunk for this big event. I must admit a sorrow though this time around, as V. will be gone to Thunder Bay and eating for one is neither simple nor satisfying. I love to share my culinary skills, and by doing so, enrich the lives of others. I can only feed Mingus and India so much duck confit or filet mignon. Speaking of which, I have just signed up for two butchery classes through The Healthy Butcher: Venison and Lamb, and Beef Hip and Loin. I figured that if nothing else I might meet interesting people and learn one new technique per class. Where are my knives?

 

Grind Your Own Meat: Making the Perfect Hamburger

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One thing I love about the summer is that I actually have the time to rest, travel and cook. I also appreciate that I now have the time to exercise to keep the food I am incorporating from becoming a few hundred pounds. While skipping through a newspaper, I noted an “expert” who insisted that you cannot make a great burger without grinding your own meat. You need control over the cut and the ability to keep the meat from a single source – unless you want to blend types of meat. As noted in a previous entry, I used one of my gift cards to pick up the KitchenAid Stand Mixer grinder attachment. Time to test it out!

While in Hamilton to visit V., we went to a grocery story and picked out a $12 slab of round roast. Not too big, but with a bit of marbling, and it was fresher than most of the other cuts. By the time I made it home I was exhausted, but still looking forward to experimenting with the new tool, so out came the cutting boards and the in went the meat. Word of warning: you will look like Dexter afterwards, so if you are squeamish about where your meat comes from, then just buy the styro-packs…they were made for you. Me? I am okay with a little blood, as it brings out the colour of my eyes.

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I easily ran the round through the grinder. The majority went through the larger press once, and I ran one patty through the smaller plate a second run through. I also used a bit of bread crumb that I had frozen, as I read that it will help keep the meat moist and to hold together. In the end, I ended up with three big burgers and a mini meat loaf for the Staub casserole dish. The best burgers were the larger grinds with the bread crumbs. They held together, cooked evenly and caused no issues. The smaller, breadcrumbless burger was okay, but would not hold up on the bbq. Yes, I had to resort to white bread for a bun, but it was perfect. I also added Djon mustard, freshly sliced dill pickles and a dab of ketchup. The cheese shown is a nicely thin Thunder Oak Nettle Gouda. Stellar on all fronts. Best burger ever. Cherry Coke forever!

Verdict: the best burger I have ever had. Period. Moist, fresh, clean and able to be safe at medium-well done. I will never buy pre-made ground beef again. I now am confused as to why people ever abandoned the meat grinder as part of the modern kitchen. What has happened to the wisdom learned from our elders? I find that most of my time learning to cook is about uncovering the standard practices of two generations ago. Maybe the next time you go to the cooking store for the latest gadget, you would have been better off talking to your grandmother or aunt about making jam or a beef stew.

Grinding Meat

Lastly, is the meatloaf. It will be saved for tomorrow’s dinner. $12 for two stellar dinners is a great deal, and neither dish took more than a few minutes to prep. Perhaps I overdid it on the burger-eating, but the bicycle ride is on for tomorrow, and the best food is always worth the time spent in the gym. I am just happy to have my time back so that I can get to the gym. First sleep and rest, then recover and work-out. I forgot to mention that I was also lucky enough to grab a copy of the Joe Beef cookbook. While not the most useful cook book, per se, it reads like a wonderful essay on the value of life, drink, food and friends. Like the PDC cookbook, it makes me miss Montreal and all that I love about that city.

Tomorrow: strawberry jam from fresh Ontario berries.