The chefs behind celebrated Montreal restaurant Joe Beef say they’re done with abusive kitchen culture. In the New Yorker, David McMillan and Frédéric Morin, both now sober, admit that alcoholism drove them to create a volatile working environment at their restaurants.
McMillan encouraged homophobia and sexism, among other “bullshit frat-boy stuff,” as one former employee put it. According to the New Yorker, McMillan once gave a cook a glass of chicken blood telling him it was his “mother’s strawberry wine.” He then gave the cook whiskey to kill the salmonella. Reflecting on it now, McMillan told New Yorker writer Hannah Goldfield, “He was fine, he was drunk... That’s boys being bad in the kitchen.”
McMillan also admitted that he could be violent, saying, “Joe Beef is the nicest restaurant I’ve ever worked at. But have I screamed at people? Yes, I have. Have I punched people? Fucking yeah. I’ve never hit a woman.” He seems to downplay his role in the abuse by blaming kitchen culture in general for the behavior, adding that he’s “been hit multiple times in the kitchen.” Although the chef doesn’t believe that he ever acted inappropriately towards women, a server told the New Yorker that he would slap her butt after he’d been drinking.
While McMillan set the tone for the abusive environment at Joe Beef, he wasn’t the lone perpetrator. In June 2018, Eater Montreal reported that a former employee publicly accused a Joe Beef chef de cuisine of sexual misconduct. According to Eater, the employee reported the incident to a manager, but owners McMillan and Morin never addressed it.
The chefs, who rose to fame by embracing hedonism at Joe Beef, are now advocating against excess. McMillan says he has “zero tolerance for homophobia, zero tolerance for misogyny, sexism.” McMillan first announced his new stance in a confessional piece for Bon Appétit — a piece that some celebrated and others, like Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg, now criticize for glossing over the worst of McMillan’s behavior.
McMillan and Morin are no longer downing bottles of wine at work, but this doesn’t mean that Joe Beef is an entirely reformed restaurant. The accused chef de cuisine has actually been promoted — he’s now co-owner of one of their restaurants. The Joe Beef kitchen is as masculine as ever, with just one woman currently employed there. And a female front-of-house employee was verbally abused by a male co-worker last summer. But this time, at least, McMillan issued a reprimand.