Think that gastronomy and hockey aren’t a perfect pair? Talk to David McMillan, the owner of restaurants Joe Beef, Liverpool House and Le Vin Papillon, and he’ll convince you that they go together in every conceivable way. Plying his trade in the food industry for over two decades, McMillan prepares succulent dishes for his patrons night after night, often serving notable guests, including members of the Canadiens. We met up with the talented chef to learn more about his passion for the CH and his personal ties to our national sport.
How long have you been a Habs fan?
DAVID MCMILLAN: I’ve always been a fan. I have some pictures of me as a kid. I might’ve been three years old and I had all kinds of Canadiens outfits. My grandfather was a big fan.
Was your room full of Canadiens memorabilia?
DM: I had the jersey and the socks. Everything was red, white and blue.
Did you play hockey growing up?
DM: Yes. I played hockey in Quebec City. I was there when the Nordiques were kings and all of my friends were Nordiques fans. I went to school with the Stastnys and I lived right next to Michel Bergeron.
Did your friends make fun of you because you were a Canadiens fan in Quebec City?
DM: A little bit. I got picked on every now and again.
Did you also play hockey outdoors?
DM: Yes. Every day, even when it was -15 outside. I always wore my incredible wool Canadiens jersey.
Did you enjoy some success in the minor hockey ranks?
DM: No. I was a lazy goaltender. But, I was a big fan of Ken Dryden. I had books about him in my room. I also had a poster of him in his classic pose.
Aside from Ken Dryden, did you have any other favourite players?
DM: I loved Larry Robinson. I also really loved Bob Gainey. I met him a few years ago. I had the chance to have a beer with him and we had a pretty interesting conversation. And, like other youngsters back then, there was Guy Lafleur.
What’s your favourite Canadiens memory?
DM: I have to admit that it’s a pretty recent memory. I’ve always been a fan and two years ago the Canadiens got in touch with me. They told me that they’d be sending a camera to my restaurant to film and do some interviews. They said they’d film me for about 20 seconds. I said – “O.K. Why not?” They filmed me outside the restaurant, holding the mythic torch from the Forum. That’s all. I didn’t hear anything about it after that. I was asking myself whether it was for the website or something like that. Finally, I saw myself on the jumbotron during the pre-game video presentation all season long. I’m the type of guy who cries during those things. The show is really good. When you see yourself holding the torch between Georges St-Pierre and Mitsou, it’s really something.
Did you have a chance to see it a few times?
DM: I saw it a lot that year. One night I was at the Bell Centre with Anthony Bourdain, Normand Laprise and Martin Picard. I hadn’t told them anything about it. When they saw me on the scoreboard, they asked me who I’d paid off to make it happen.
Do you have any Stanley Cup memories?
DM: You know what, because I work in the restaurant industry, the last time the Canadiens went deep in the playoffs I really didn’t have any free time. I saw those games on replay because when they were being played live, I was at the age where I was standing in front of an oven making food. I still watch those games. I put them on at my restaurant sometimes. I put playoff games on in July. Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. People go out to see those.
Aside from the Bell Centre, what is the best place to watch a Canadiens game?
DM: That’s a tough question to answer. I love Burgundy Lion, right in front of Joe Beef. That’s where I usually go.
You’ve got a very busy schedule. Do you still manage to watch a few games?
DM: I generally work while watching hockey. But, let me tell you something. With the horrible winter that we had, there’s nothing better than being in the restaurant and watching hockey when it’s -32 outside. The Canadiens are like a ray of sunshine during a cold and dark winter. For real. It gets dark at 4 p.m. and it’s cold outside. People come in around 6:30 p.m. and the game starts at 7 p.m. Everyone eats, drinks and watches the Canadiens. It’s a ray of sunshine in a cold and dreary winter. It’s a return to normalcy for two hours. Some people watch games from home, but I think I’m really lucky to have three resturants and to serve food and drinks while watching hockey. It’s great. We have such a good time.
It’s no secret that the guys like to eat at your restaurant. What’s your best-seller?
DM: Hockey players today are smart about what they eat and they understand the importance of nutrition. I’ve cooked for Canadiens players throughout my career at Globe, Rosalie, Joe Beef and Liverpool House. I’ve always done it. I’ve seen players’ eating habits change over the last eight years. Now, they eat salad and fish. They don’t drink or they just have a glass of wine. The sport is so fast now. Players eat sensibly.
When they come by Joe Beef, do they always go for a healthy option or is it the type of place where you just have to “cheat”?
DM: You mean when they want to party? They don’t do that. Let’s say they win and they’ve got a few days off, some of them might eat a steak and a salad, but no fries. I always like cooking for Russian players. They’re real foodies. They love stews, cabbage and things like that.
Which Canadiens player has the most potential in the kitchen?
DM: When it comes to food, the most sophisticated player on the team is probably Lars Eller. He won’t admit it, but he’s a foodie. He likes to try new things. He takes an interest in food. It’s a passion for him.
Which player would you hire as a sous-chef?
DM: Carey Price. He wouldn’t let anything past him. (Laughs) When you’re looking for a sous-chef, you’re trying to find someone who would never let a bad dish leave the kitchen. You’re looking for perfection. The best sous-chef is a goaltender who wouldn’t let anything go.
What do you think about the famous chicken and pasta combination that players tend to eat as a pre-game meal? Do you have any suggestions to spice things up a bit?
DM: That’s what they say? It’s their fuel source. Protein and carbohydrates. It makes sense. I’m not a nutritionist. I’m just a chef, but I’d be curious to know how many calories a player can burn during a game. I think it has to be something like 3,000 to 4,000. So, chicken and pasta is perfect. I wouldn’t really know how to spice things up. I really like a good Alfredo chicken, myself.
What’s the best food to eat while watching a hockey game?
DM: I’d say a steak at Joe Beef. No question! Hockey and steak, there’s nothing better than that. A regular steak with tomatoes and Joe Beef steak sauce. Delicious!
Interview conducted by Vincent Cauchy. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.
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