David McMillan Montreal restaurant industry

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David McMillan’s Last Supper

And like that, Mr. David “Joe Beef” McMillan has taken his final reservation. It wasn’t such a shock that one of Montreal’s most revered restaurateurs decided to quit the cutthroat business that he helped create; what was shocking was the manner in which he managed to insult everyone that helped get him to the truffle-shaving-for-Toronto-tourists level in the first place. Torontonians don’t know why they think asparagus is the apex of culinary arts. It’s not their fault. 

But it wasn’t just McMillan’s clientele. Neither the staff nor the industry itself evaded his forked tongue. I guess fame and fortune in one’s chosen field isn’t enough. Having a best-selling cookbook and becoming buddies with Anthony Bourdain. Not enough. 

A few years ago, I happened by Liverpool House one evening. A convoy of blacked-out luxury SUVs was parked out front. I wondered who was dining there, and later discovered it was Trudeau and Obama. Now, I’m not prone to pride, but I must admit I felt honoured somehow that the two hippest world leaders since JFK and Trudeau Sr. would have a summit in our local restaurant. Not enough for McMillan. He still had to wash the dishes.

I don’t usually do this — say something disparaging. But today, there are a dozen places within walking distance that I’d rather eat at. Montreal’s fine dining establishments have greatly improved since Joe Beef was considered a destination. Most of them are too refined to simply slop a slab of meat on a plate and pray to hell that the table is plied with enough wine to make a mediocre meal go unnoticed — not to mention the cheque that will leave everyone choking. Who knew McMillan’s last act of seasoning would be salting the earth?

Tim Hecker, “Winter’s Coming,” The North Water (Original Score) (Lakeshore Records)

“Winter’s Coming” by Tim Hecker

Speaking of restaurants, it’s weird that “going back to normal” for most people means being able to dine out — or at least order in — rather than having to cook and clean for our own lazy selves. It’s no wonder that nobody wants to work for minimum wage in one of the hardest jobs that exists. I helped out washing dishes in a friend’s restaurant this past summer and lasted precisely two shifts. It’s backbreaking labour. 

The pandemic has exposed another of capitalism’s little cracks: more than a service industry, an industry of servitude. Walking by, all the chic restaurants are busy. You’d never know there had just been a pandemic or something, other than the masked staff, the ubiquitous barcodes and the plexiglass dividers that we’re now being told probably made things worse.

We’ve not yet begun processing the trauma of what just happened. And I get the impetus behind going out for a meal. It’s nice to be served. It’s nice to feel like someone is taking care of you, someone who cares. That’s normal. But everyone who’s worked in the service industry knows that you can’t care about everyone. Especially after that

More than other kinds of cultural events, like sports or live music, dining out has taken a turn for the absurd, post-COVID — it’s become explicitly aristocratic. Unless you’re travelling or dating, and with labour shortages, food prices and winter’s imminent onset, there’s every reason to brush up on your cooking skills while hunkered down safely at home. Serve yourself.

Huerco S., “Plonk IV,” Plonk (Incienso)

“Plonk IV” by Huerco S.

Has anyone else noticed the current trend, started well before 2020 but now in full swing, of electronic music that, for lack of a more convenient descriptor, sounds “plonky”? I’m thinking of the break in Oneohtrix Point Never’s “I Bite Through It,” reminiscent of Spacetime Continuum’s “Kairo,” or even further back to Stanley Jordan. More recently, there’s the debut record from Orange Milk boss, Giant Claw, which sounds like a basketball bouncing through the entire DX-7 preset catalogue. And now this.

Zvrra, “Array of Light 01,” Array of Light (Whited Sepulchre)

“Array of Light 01” by Zvrra

“Every time a culture gets into trouble, it casts itself back in the past, looking for the last sane moment it ever knew. And the last sane moment we ever knew was on the plains of Africa 15,000 years ago, rocked in the cradle of the great horned mushroom goddess. Before history. Before standing armies and slavey and property. Before warfare and phonetic alphabets and monotheism… 

This is where the future is taking us… 

The secret faith of the 20th century is nostalgia for the archaic.”

——Terence McKenna

Roger Tellier-Craig, “Horizons pavés” single (self-released)

I recently took a ride on Old Montreal’s big wheel — up and down 60 metres, three times around. I’d never been on it before, believing it a bit cheesy, too touristy. But it was good fun, to be frank. The view from up there is spectacular in every direction. 

It was raining the day I went, so there was nobody else there. I had not only the cabin but the entire wheel to myself. I tried my best to identify the exact moment at the top when it was neither ascending nor descending, the pinnacle, as high as it gets.

It’s a strange sensation going up and immediately going down and for a moment not really being sure which is which. Of course I got vertigo from the whole experience and had to have a lie-down afterward, but if you’ve got stronger inner ears than I do, it’s worth a spin. ■

This column originally appeared in the December issue of Cult MTL. 

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