When we first flipped through The Art of Living According to Joe Beef by Frédéric Morin, David McMillan and Meredith Erickson, we thought it was yet another pretty but also pretty lackluster restaurant cookbook (Joe Beef is Montreal's restaurant du jour). There's even the requisite foreword by a well-known cutting edge chef (here, David Chang). But that subtitle, A Cookbook of Sorts, tells the real story here.
The cooking style veers towards simple dishes, but in that alluring a-chef-must-be-behind-the-stove way: Duck steak au poivre, deep fried smelt with mayonnaise garnished with fried parsley, a cauliflower gratin layered with Gruyère and mimolette cheese, homemade peameal bacon (Canadian bacon).
And then you get to the "hot oysters on the radio" recipes. Tongue-in-cheek edible commentary, if you will, only here with really great recipes to back them up. And why we love this book.
Those oysters are baked with cream, bacon, chives and topped with bread crumbs, then served, literally, on an old radio. The reason for the radio? Per the recipe Introduction, to make fun of the "foodie" trend: "When we started Joe Beef, the town was suffering from a weird vibe, a kind of up the ante feeling with regard to food: People went out to eat like college kids drink beer. If someone was doing testicles, you could expect someone else to pair them with pizza... there was no end in sight, much less vegetables."
And so they served the oysters on top of radios -- or on bags of sugar, erotic novels and old album covers. That Joe Beef was of course benefiting from this foodie revolution in the form of customers lining up for plates of deviled kidneys and hanger steak on toast (p. 247) makes those nouvelle cuisine radios even more hilarious. The pot making no excuses for calling the kettle black, in essence. Yeah, we love these guys already.
There are still plenty of "straightforward" chef recipes here as well: Carrots glazed with honey, an interesting sauce made with roasted chicken skins (!), ricotta gnocchi with chile-fennel-tomato sauce that also gets a skin kick (here, pork skin), a recipe for éclairs meant as a jumping off point for endless variations (pistachio cream-filled with matcha tea fondant, Nutella with toasted hazelnuts).
But we keep getting sucked in by the book's voice -- and thinking how fun it must be to work at this restaurant. The "art" side of The Art of Living According to Joe Beef is even evident in the recipe descriptions. "Roll the [pork] skin up tightly and tie it around and around with butcher twine, like you would a cheap sleeping bag for a college trip to Camp Lake Crystal," instructs the ricotta gnocchi recipe.
We also love the rambling sidebars, like this one from co-owner and chef Frédéric Morin on the benefit of using grams: "I'm not on a crusade for metric measurement. I love the inches and their fractions when I work with wood or metal. I run five miles, and that's fine, too. But grams make so much sense. The whole ounce, liquid, solid, pound thing gets me confused. With grams, everything is simple and precise. Why do you think the drug dealers went with grams?"
By the time we got to the cocktail chapter, where there are "serious" discussions of cocktails like the restaurant's cheeky alternative to the Arnold Palmer ("The Vijay Singh" with green tea syrup, gin, Chartreuse, lemon juice, tonic, squeeze of lemon ), we were chuckling so much we actually considered making this Vienna sausage martini, off-putting as it sounds. "It just seems to make sense that if you want a snack in your liquor, you should make it a sausage," say the authors. Well, they do have a point.
From: The Art of Living According to Joe Beef
Note: Per the recipe, in this cocktail you can "give a new life to those pesky little Vienna wieners, or buy good-quality knackwurst and pickle them in a brine of equal parts vinegar and water."
2 ounces (60 ml) vodka
½ ounce (15 ml) white vermouth
Dash of canned Vienna sausage juice
Drop of Tabasco sauce
1 canned Vienna sausage
1. Freeze a martini glass.
2. Shake together the vodka, vermouth, sausage juice and Tabasco [in an ice-filled cocktail shaker].
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3. Strain and serve in chilled glass with a Vienna wiener on a skewer. Add more juice and it's a dirty sausage martini.
[More from Jenn Garbee @eathistory + eathistory.com