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Sobriety Alone Doesn’t Change a Restaurant Culture

From the Editor: Everything you missed in food news last week

Randall Brodeur/Eater Montreal

This post originally appeared on May 25, 2019, in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.

Joe Beef is an undeniably cool restaurant in Montreal. It’s dark and lively, with a garden in the back and a killer wine list, and I’ve gone on every visit to that city. It’s beloved by many in the restaurant world, and was made famous by Tony Bourdain, who featured the restaurant and its owners, chefs Dave McMillan and Frédéric Morin, on multiple episodes of his various shows. But its lore and its raison d’être were built around excess. It’s where I first heard the concept of “fucking you with food,” aka sending out more than the VIP diner can possibly eat.

The culture of excess seems to have led to a certain amount of abuse, as outlined in Hannah Goldfield’s piece in the New Yorker this week, which centers on McMillan and Morin’s quest for both sobriety and a healthier restaurant environment.

In the New Yorker piece, McMillan says he’s used homophobic slurs and once pressured a cook to drink a glass of chicken blood. He brushes it off as “boys being bad in the kitchen.” He has publicly discussed hitting on female customers and says a winemaker friend objectified women in front of him. A bartender says he hit her butt on multiple occasions (which he denies). Yet he tells the magazine he “doesn’t believe that he acted inappropriately toward women,” because his ex-partner was a server at the restaurant. Last year a former Joe Beef busser accused the chef de cuisine of groping them. McMillan acknowledged the incident but still employs the chef, blaming his own alcoholism for how the incident was mishandled.

McMillan wrote a splashy essay in Bon Appetit earlier this year about his path to sobriety and being a role model for his staff. He discusses the same in the Goldfield piece. But a culture that doesn’t encourage alcohol abuse seems like just the first step in a shift that should/could happen up there.

On a side note, I also wonder why these sobriety narratives in the restaurant world (McMillan, Brock, Solomonov, etc.) so often center on men. Is it that men are more likely to be driven to excess in this industry? Or are women more likely to battle their demons in private?

Maybe men just have better publicists.

Curious as to your thoughts on all of it.

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A restaurant interior with a mural of an Indian woman beside a large picture window. Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago

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