For Americans living through turbulent times, Canada can seem like a refuge. The Montreal chef David McMillan figures it doesn’t hurt for Canadians to have a getaway plan, too. Since 2012, he’s owned a lakeside cabin in the Laurentian Mountains, accessible only by boat. It’s equipped with solar power, fishing rods and rifles, and enough dried provisions to last a year. McMillan, who has three young daughters, told me, “If anything is weird, I could grab everybody and head up there.” The cabin was an inspiration for “Joe Beef: Surviving the Apocalypse,” McMillan’s second cookbook with Frédéric Morin, his partner in five Montreal restaurants, including Joe Beef. Published late last year, and co-written with Meredith Erickson, a cookbook author who was one of Joe Beef’s first servers, the new book is in part a tongue-in-cheek survivalist’s manual, with instructions for building a subterranean bunker, making hardtack, and growing endive in darkness. By “apocalypse,” the authors mean a range of modern ills, from the “constant noise” of social media to the threat of nuclear war. “We don’t want to just survive,” Erickson writes. “We want to live it out in full Burgundy style.” To that end, the book also collects more than a hundred of the chefs’ recipes, including a tater-tot galette, sweetbreads cooked with charcoal and licorice, and a rendition of jambon persillé, a Burgundian charcuterie of ham suspended in parsleyed jelly.
Joe Beef, which opened in 2005, is McMillan and Morin’s first and best-known restaurant. It specializes in ambitious but unfussy French cooking—no white tablecloths, no minimalist dishes sprinkled with microgreens or gold leaf. Situated in the former industrial neighborhood of Little Burgundy, near the Lachine Canal, the restaurant has the feel of a ragtag bistro, with vintage furniture and stuffed animal heads mounted on the walls. The menu, written only on chalkboards, in French, is defined by exuberant immoderation, a blend of the haute and the gluttonous. On a given night, it might include a traditional foie-gras torchon or a sandwich of foie gras on white bread; tartare of raw duck, venison, or horsemeat; and a hulking strip steak topped with cheese curds—a Québécois staple—or fat links of boudin noir. Often, it includes dishes that aren’t French at all: skate schnitzel, porchetta, barbecued ribs cooked in the back-yard smoker. Diners willing to spend at least a hundred dollars apiece can forgo ordering and let the kitchen stuff them with a dozen courses of its choosing. The food writer John Birdsall once published an ecstatic piece on the site First We Feast titled “I Puked at Joe Beef and It Made Me a Better Man.”
For a long time, McMillan and Morin made a point of living the experience that they were selling. McMillan was known for drinking with his customers, and then downing bottles of wine long after dinner service was over. The chefs’ spirit of extravagance helped make Joe Beef a success. In 2007, they opened Liverpool House, two doors down, to accommodate Joe Beef overflow; four years later, they expanded Joe Beef into an adjacent space, doubling its capacity. And, a couple of years after that, they opened a wine bar, Le Vin Papillon, two doors down from Liverpool House. Today, they employ a hundred and fifty people. But their ethos of excess proved unsustainable. In an essay for Bon Appétit, in February, McMillan wrote, “The community of people I surrounded myself with ate and drank like Vikings. It worked well in my twenties. It worked well in my thirties. It started to unravel when I was forty. I couldn’t shut it off.”
One day in January of last year, Morin and several employees and friends staged an intervention for McMillan at Joe Beef. McMillan had always thought of addiction as a weakness, not a disease. But he agreed to go to rehab, and his monthlong stay there, he wrote, provided a “crash-course in alcoholism, wellness, and the language of sobriety.” When he got out, he continued to attend A.A. meetings. Morin, who is married with three kids, realized that he also had a problem. Several months after McMillan got sober, he stopped drinking, too.
One morning not long ago, I went with McMillan and Morin to their latest venture, McKiernan Luncheonette, across the canal from Joe Beef. They opened it, last September, with Derek Dammann, the chef-owner of Maison Publique, a gastropub in town—one of many local establishments that feel made in Joe Beef’s image. Housed in a former textile mill, McKiernan is the largest of their restaurants, and the only one to serve breakfast and lunch. It offers dishes in McMillan and Morin’s maximalist style: a grilled cheese as big as a skateboard; a hundred-and-twenty-dollar côte de boeuf. There is also lighter, café fare, such as clam chowder and buffalo-milk yogurt with granola. When we arrived, the kitchen staff were slicing baguettes for jambon beurre. McMillan said, laughing, “Five of the best chefs in Montreal, making seven-dollar sandwiches!”
He and Morin are both in their forties but they are physical opposites, a Québécois Asterix and Obelix. Six feet three and heavily tattooed, McMillan is Joe Beef’s front man—charismatic, obscenely quotable, as inconspicuous as a grizzly bear. Morin is smaller and more circumspect, with an aquiline nose, a pronounced French-Canadian accent, and a sly sense of humor. In the early years of Joe Beef, Morin spent most of his time in the kitchen; McMillan readily admits that Morin is the better cook. As the business has grown, both have moved into supervisory roles, stopping by the restaurants frequently but leaving their staff to handle day-to-day tasks. Since getting sober, both have lost a significant amount of weight.
Until very recently, debauchery was considered inescapable in some corners of the restaurant industry. Anthony Bourdain, in his 2000 memoir, “Kitchen Confidential,” enshrined the perception of cooks as hard-driving misfits, and of kitchens as places generally populated by “a thuggish assortment of drunks.” Mario Batali, who in 1998 opened Babbo, his flagship restaurant, in New York, made his prodigious appetites a defining part of his image, along with his ponytail and orange Crocs. Batali was one of the world’s most admired chefs, known for rhapsodizing about the pleasures of Italian specialties such as lardo and bucatini all’amatriciana. That changed in December of 2017, when, in reports by Eater and the Washington Post, multiple women accused him of sexually harassing or assaulting them. At one of his late-night party spots, the West Village gastropub the Spotted Pig (where he was an investor), he and Ken Friedman, a co-owner, drank heavily and subjected women to unwanted verbal and physical advances, according to the Times. Suddenly, Batali’s proud intemperance was considered in a new light—as emblematic of a kind of ugly behavior that had been allowed to flourish in the industry for too long. (Both Batali and Friedman denied some of the allegations. In March, Batali sold his share of his restaurant group. Friedman remains an owner of the Spotted Pig.)
For diners who are attracted to brash culinary celebrity, Joe Beef became no less a destination than Babbo or David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar, which opened, in New York, a year before Joe Beef. Chang has called Joe Beef his favorite restaurant in the world; both he and Bourdain, another fan, became friends of McMillan and Morin. Bourdain, who committed suicide last year, had been open about abusing heroin and crack cocaine early in his career, and about eventually getting clean. But he never gave up drinking, and he struggled with depression. After he died, a toxicology report found only trace amounts of alcohol in his system. Still, Morin said that Bourdain’s death was a factor that made him question his own relationship with alcohol: “It surely couldn’t have helped him, that’s the most I feel qualified to say.”
McMillan and Morin are not the first high-profile chefs to get sober in recent memory. Michael Solomonov, who owns Zahav, the acclaimed Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia, began treatment for crack-cocaine addiction and alcoholism a decade ago. Sean Brock, best known for the restaurant Husk, in Charleston, wrote last April about quitting drinking and taking up a new “self-care” regimen that included meditation and Reiki. Brock and Solomonov are just two of many chefs who now serve nonalcoholic cocktails at their restaurants. In “The Rise of the Sober Chef,” a First We Feast story from 2015, Solomonov noted that admitting you’re an alcoholic “is less of a taboo than it was ten years ago—even in the kitchen.”
Before McMillan and Morin gave up drinking, Joe Beef was an occasionally volatile and abusive work environment; they are adamant that sobriety has made them more responsible bosses. Both are evangelists by nature. Where they once promoted unbridled hedonism, they’ve now become unlikely crusaders against the excesses of restaurant culture. McMillan said, “I believe clearly now that you can make a decision to go into the service industry and have a healthy life, a happy life, as a waiter, a sommelier, or a cook.”
McMillan and Morin grew up in Montreal, not far from each other, and both developed an early interest in French cooking. Morin watched Jacques Pépin and Julia Child on TV; McMillan recalls his mother bringing home a book by the Lyonnaise chef Paul Bocuse. After high school, both began working in restaurants, and, later, attended cooking school. At the time, there was little glamour in being a chef. “We went into cooking like you go into plumbing or electricity,” McMillan said.
They didn’t know each other well until 1999, when they found themselves working together at the Globe, a restaurant and supper club in downtown Montreal. McMillan was the chef de cuisine and Morin was his sous chef. The Globe had been an excellent French restaurant, they told me, but it began catering to a late-night crowd who cared little about the food. “They dressed the waitresses like sluts, in little pink tight dresses,” McMillan said. “They did bottle service. The restaurant was frequented by the Mafia and motorcycle gangs and drug dealers, vodka drinkers, d.j. culture. Sodom and Gomorrah.” In 2004, Morin took over the kitchen while McMillan oversaw the opening of a sister restaurant, Rosalie. McMillan, overworked and drinking too much, had what he has called a “little breakdown.” “We were so burned out,” Morin said. “We were both on antidepressants.” They wondered if they should get out of the industry altogether.
At the time, modernist chefs like Ferran Adrià, in Spain, and Charlie Trotter, in Chicago, were in vogue, but McMillan and Morin retained their passion for traditional French food. After shifts at the Globe, they ate at L’Express, one of Montreal’s few remaining old-school bistros, where the ceilings are painted yellow to match stains from the cigarette smoke that once filled the dining room, and each meal begins with a server delivering to the table a jar of cornichons and a pot of mustard. McMillan and Morin still consider it a perfect restaurant. They also admired a new generation of chefs who’d opened small, idiosyncratic restaurants in the U.S. and in Canada: Gabrielle Hamilton, who had, Morin said, the temerity to put Triscuits on the menu at her tiny New York restaurant, Prune; Martin Picard, whose Montreal tavern, Au Pied de Cochon, served the kind of snout-to-tail cooking that was gaining popularity at the time, with a Québécois spin, including a famous foie-gras poutine.
On their days off, McMillan and Morin often hung out in Little Burgundy—then a backwater neighborhood of greasy spoons, thrift shops, and Art Deco buildings like the home of Atwater, one of Montreal’s sprawling indoor markets. One morning, the owner of a café on Notre-Dame Street West mentioned that he was closing his business, and offered them cheap rent on the dingy space. McMillan, Morin, and Allison Cunningham, a server at the Globe (who later married Morin), decided to go in on it together. They fixed up the twenty-six-seat dining room, putting in wainscotting and a bar made from a farmhouse floor. Out back, they planted a garden and installed a smoker. They named the restaurant after Charles (Joe Beef) McKiernan, the proprietor of a rowdy nineteenth-century Montreal tavern.
McMillan and Morin served raw seafood and French classics such as Dover-sole meunière and pâté en croûte. Morin devised a creamy, lardon-studded lobster spaghetti, now a Joe Beef staple. They found a supplier of horsemeat, an ingredient that they describe in their first cookbook, “The Art of Living According to Joe Beef,” as “the great divide between Anglophone and Francophone.” There was an intimacy to the dining room: McMillan shucked oysters at the bar and kibbitzed with customers. The occasional rude or disruptive guest was invited to leave. Within six months, the restaurant was booking tables a month in advance.
McMillan and Morin attribute much of their success to the support of Chang and Bourdain. In a 2013 episode of his TV series “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain spent a sybaritic few days with McMillan and Morin in and around Montreal. They staged a six-course meal in an ice-fishing shack on the frozen St. Lawrence River. It included Glacier Bay and Beausoleil oysters, oxtail consommé over foie gras, chilled lobster à la Parisienne with shaved truffles, wild hare in a sauce of its own blood, Époisses cheese smeared on bread, and a layer cake called a Marjolaine. They smoked Cuban cigars and drank white Burgundy and Chartreuse. Later in the episode, on a trip to Martin Picard’s Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon, outside Montreal, Morin opened a bottle of sparkling wine with a hammer.
McMillan’s greatest passion, apart from French cooking, was natural wine, a movement—until recently based almost entirely in France—to produce wines using organic or biodynamically grown grapes, no additives, and minimal processing. In 2015, he helped Vanya Filipovic, Joe Beef’s wine director and a partner in Le Vin Papillon, start an import business, turning his restaurants into a hub of natural wine in North America. But his oenophilia became a cover for his accelerating alcoholism. When McMillan first went to rehab, he said, he’d look at other addicts and think, “Oh, no, no, I’m not like you losers. I have a natural-wine problem.”
McMillan made intermittent efforts to drink less and to go to the gym. In 2013, he had gastric bypass surgery. He lost a hundred and eighty pounds in the following years, but he continued to drink heavily. Max Campbell, a bartender and server who has worked at Joe Beef for more than a decade, told me that, each night, when McMillan came into the restaurant, “I’d open one, two bottles, three bottles, I don’t know.” McMillan would make the rounds in the dining room, pouring wine, Calvados, and champagne for customers and for himself. Sometimes Campbell had to make excuses for McMillan’s drunken behavior; one night, he drove him home in McMillan’s own car. Meredith Erickson told me, “David changed from being the guy who everyone wanted to circle around, and listen to the stories, to a guy where everyone was just, like, ‘I’m feeling really uncomfortable, because you’re not acting like the guy we love right now.’ ”
Several current and former Joe Beef employees told me that they’d felt pressure to drink. After hours, McMillan would herd staff members to the bar across the street and buy them beers and shots of whiskey. In the summer, Campbell said, “we’d all sit outside on the terrace and we’d drink beer until the keg ran out.” Emily Ekelund, a former employee, started working as a busser at Joe Beef in 2011, and was eventually promoted to bartender. In 2014, she left the job to focus on getting sober. When she returned, a year and a half later, to work at Le Vin Papillon, it was with certain stipulations—she’d no longer close the bar or work past midnight. “I needed to get myself out of that environment in order to stop drinking,” she said.
According to a 2015 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the food-service and hospitality sectors have among the highest rates of alcohol and drug use of any industry. Morin said that he thinks drinking is responsible for most of “the anger and the pressure and the abuse” in professional kitchens. As a young chef, he witnessed several bad fights in kitchens, including one that had to be broken up by the police. McMillan told me, “Everybody that I worked for, all my mentors, were screamers. I’ve been hit multiple times in the kitchen.” Morin recalled once throwing a pan of bacon onto the floor after a line cook accidentally tossed out fresh fish. McMillan said, “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.”
McMillan sometimes abetted what a former employee called “bullshit frat-boy stuff.” He used homophobic slurs, and he once gave a cook a glass of chicken blood to drink, telling him that it was his “mother’s strawberry wine.” Afterward, McMillan gave him whiskey, to kill the salmonella. “He was fine, he was drunk,” he told me. “That’s boys being bad in the kitchen.” In a 2014 profile by Lesley Chesterman, a Montreal food critic, in the Swedish food magazine Fool, McMillan bragged about how he greeted female customers: “My new line is, ‘You’re so hot I would chase you through the forest with an ax.’ ” And yet McMillan doesn’t believe that he acted inappropriately toward women, in part because his longtime partner (now ex) Julie Sanchez, was a server at Joe Beef for many years. Filipovic and Erickson, who worked at the restaurant until 2010, both told me that they were always treated with respect. A former bartender, Sarah Reid, told me, without animus, that McMillan slapped her butt on several occasions after he’d been drinking. At the time, she considered it a sign that he was pleased with her work. “We’re all brainwashed in this culture,” she said, adding, “I don’t want to demonize Dave and say that he is the problem.” (McMillan denies ever slapping Reid. “Even in my drinking, I remember everything,” he said.)
Last June, in an article in the Globe and Mail, Reid and twenty other women detailed allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Norman Hardie, one of Canada’s leading winemakers, and a friend and associate of McMillan and Morin. (Hardie denied many of the allegations.) A week later, a former Joe Beef busser—who is trans and uses the pronoun “they”—claimed, in a string of Instagram posts (later deleted), that, in 2016, when they were working in the restaurant, the chef de cuisine groped their genitals. The busser, who declined to comment on the incident, wrote that they complained to a manager, who did little in response; they left the job the following day. They decided to come forward on social media after reading the Hardie exposé, which noted that McMillan had cut ties with the winemaker and quoted him saying, “I’m horrified and disappointed in Norman.” McMillan was distancing himself from one abuser, the employee wrote, while “he employs and supports” another.
The chefs declined to discuss the incident with me, but, in an article published last year, in Eater Montreal, McMillan acknowledged that the groping had occurred; the chef de cuisine was “extremely remorseful,” he said. McMillan added that he hadn’t been in the restaurant during the incident, and blamed alcoholism for making him an inattentive boss. The busser wasn’t able to appeal to him for help, he said, “because I was stuck drinking somewhere.” He told me, of that period, “I went to work and I wondered who I was going to drink with, when I was going to drink, what winemaker was in town, what wines are we selling—wine, wine, wine, wine, wine, wine, wine. Meanwhile, some chef at some other restaurant has just made someone cry for the fifth time. And, instead of addressing it, I would get someone else to address it. I was a coward.”
McMillan told me that, in rehab, he was advised to find a new line of work. “I have no other skills or education apart from this business, so I was in a very awkward position,” he said. “I thought I was going to work in a grocery store, to be honest.” Instead, he started working kitchen shifts again, at Elena, an Italian restaurant co-owned by his friend Ryan Gray, a former Joe Beef sommelier who had got sober a few years earlier. After McMillan returned to his restaurants, three months later, he found that the staff welcomed his and Morin’s sobriety. “The kids,” as McMillan calls them, now party less, and often choose sparkling water or kombucha instead of beer at the end of a shift. Since the publication of his Bon Appétit piece, McMillan said, he receives messages every day, from industry people all over the world, seeking advice on how to get sober. At McKiernan Luncheonette, on Sunday nights, one of their employees hosts recovery-group meetings in the dining room, which McMillan, Morin, and a number of their staff attend. The group has a name, inspired by the French culinary term mise en place: Remise en Place—to put back in place.
Some members of Montreal’s food community found the Bon Appétit article inspiring; others found it self-serving. McMillan and Morin are shrewd stewards of their restaurants’—and their own—reputations, and their sobriety can seem like a marketing maneuver: by making a show of reforming their ways, they are taking credit for addressing problems that they long helped to perpetuate.
Several former Joe Beef employees told me it was obvious that Hardie, the winemaker, had been mistreating women since long before the allegations against him were made public. “Did Norman Hardie objectify women in my presence? Yes,” McMillan said. The incident that Sarah Reid described to the Globe and Mail—Hardie putting his hand up her shirt and down the back of her pants—took place at an event that McMillan attended. Still, he maintains that he wasn’t aware of the extent of the abuse until he got a phone call about the paper’s investigation while he was in rehab. He sees himself as a teller of hard truths about the industry. “Some of my peers are furious at me for speaking about the Norman Hardie stuff,” he said. “Some of my peers are furious at me for speaking about alcohol.” Ekelund, the former Joe Beef employee, told me, “It’s very easy to take sobriety and make it the righteous thing that you’re doing.” She added, “Making yourself look good publicly is not making amends.”
This past February, a Canadian TV personality, Anne-Marie Withenshaw, tweeted, and later deleted, a message that seemed directed at McMillan: “It’s interesting how some chefs now flashing their sobriety as a badge of manhood used to relentlessly bully (and use homophobic slurs which I won’t) the ones trying to quietly get/stay sober a decade ago.” McMillan tweeted, in response, “I am imperfect absolutely. I was and am a product of the environment I was brought up in and in the twilight of my career am committed to change.” Withenshaw told me that she didn’t wish to elaborate on the comment, and added that she meant to call attention to a problem bigger than any one chef or restaurant. A few people I spoke to declined to discuss Joe Beef out of fear that it could damage their careers. Yasmin Hother Yishay, who worked for Joe Beef briefly in 2015, developed a podcast, the following year, about incidents of labor violation and abuse in Montreal’s restaurants, including the groping at Joe Beef. It was never finished, she told me, because not enough people were willing to go on the record. “Alcoholism is a huge part of that industry, but that’s not even the problem,” she said. “It’s a space where men can roam free.”
One evening, I met McMillan, Morin, and Erickson for drinks and hors d’œuvres at Le Vin Papillon. McMillan and Morin’s first two restaurants have often been described as “masculine.” Liverpool House is decorated with photographs of tractor trailers and serves some of the same dishes as Joe Beef. (In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had dinner there with Barack Obama; Ariel Schor, the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, reported that Obama “was surprised at the size of our portions.”) Le Vin Papillon has an aesthetic that McMillan regards as more feminine, with whitewashed floors and walls, and paintings of its namesake papillons, or butterflies, on the wall. The food is lighter, too. “I realized one day, sitting at Joe Beef, that there were beautiful, responsible women and men who were eating only the appetizers and drinking responsibly by the glass,” McMillan told me, over a plate of house-cured ham. “I built Vin Papillon with an image of how Vanya and Meredith ate and drank. They wouldn’t come to Joe Beef and crush a magnum with two steaks.”
Last year, McMillan and Morin opened a second wine bar, Vin Mon Lapin, with Filipovic and her husband, where they serve an omelette filled with lobes of fresh sea urchin and a salade rose, made with radicchio, pink endive, and delicate curls of foie gras. Until a recent staffing change at Vin Papillon, the kitchens at both wine bars were run by women. But Filipovic, who oversees the front of the house at Joe Beef and the two bars, told me that she doesn’t like the masculine-feminine distinction. She thinks of the lighter fare at Vin Papillon and Vin Mon Lapin as part of a natural evolution. “We all kind of got older and stopped being able to deal with eating like that all the time,” she said.
For dinner, we went to Joe Beef, where we sat on the back patio, beneath a giant metal lobster. A parade of dishes began to arrive from the kitchen: raw oysters, razor clams, and scallops on shaved ice; crackly brown croquettes stuffed with “smoked meat,” the Montreal cousin to pastrami; tender tripe in a fragrant consommé; rosy slabs of roast beef. Filipovic poured Erickson and me a different wine for each course. McMillan, who was drinking nonalcoholic beer, listened attentively to her descriptions and sniffed a few glasses. Morin, who was given a diagnosis of celiac disease in 2010, after years of stomach problems, drank only water. He said that the condition hasn’t interfered with his work: much of Joe Beef’s menu—raw seafood, meat and potatoes—is gluten-free.
The food was as decadent as ever—“It’s not broken, I’m not gonna fix it,” McMillan said—but he and Morin told me that they’ve become less interested in putting truffles and foie gras on everything. Morin recalled reading a biography of Julia Child, in which she describes a dinner of a few large oysters, an entrée of fish, and a slice of Brie de Meaux for dessert. “The simple French menu, the one that I now find most appetite-whetting—I used to consider it boring,” he said. “But a part of sobriety is learning to deal with boredom, which in time you realize is more like simplicity.” Both he and McMillan ate modestly; more than one platter was returned to the kitchen largely untouched. At one point, a customer stopped by the table.
“You guys look great!” he said to McMillan and Morin.
“Ah, we’ve been wearing makeup, more and more makeup,” Morin replied. “We’re still dark on the inside.”
McMillan remains proudly chauvinistic about Montreal’s dining scene. “I had two eighteen-year-old girls from Laval”—a suburb of Montreal—“the other day, who were having a meal at Joe Beef before going out to a night club, and they were having deer liver medium rare,” he said. “Show me a restaurant in Manhattan that has deer liver, and then show me two eighteen-year-old girls from New Jersey eating it—and loving it—medium rare.”
Lately, McMillan has been spending much of his time at his cabin, where he takes his daughters fishing and foraging for mushrooms. He recently bought a farm, near the border of Vermont, which he plans to eventually turn into a restaurant. He also started a natural-wine label, working with vintners in Ontario. His chefs will drive for hours to buy a single bag of whitefish caviar; it would be a shame to let customers pair their food with a commercial Chablis. “Our job is putting two things inside your body, food and wine,” he said. “One has to go with the other.” When he needs to taste a new bottle, he sips and spits. He acknowledged that advocating for sobriety and for wine at the same time might sound contradictory: “There’s always going to be someone who says, ‘Yeah, but you’re only a year sober, shut the fuck up, you’re a rookie, you could fuck up any day.’ I go, ‘Yeah, no, sure, I might, but for now I’m not, so fuck you.’ ”
McMillan and Morin have not eliminated all their workplace liabilities. The chef de cuisine who groped the busser is now a co-owner of one of their other restaurants. (McMillan told Eater that the chef has “proven by his actions that he’s a good man.”) Only one woman currently works in the Joe Beef kitchen. A front-of-house employee, Kellie Stupert, told me that she was verbally abused by a male co-worker last summer, but that McMillan immediately reprimanded him. “He told me that he was on my side, that they had my back,” she said. “You can’t really ask for anything better than that.” McMillan believes it’s inevitable that such issues arise in a company as big as theirs. But he now has “zero tolerance for homophobia, zero tolerance for misogyny, sexism,” he said, adding, “It sounds hypocritical, because I’m sure people you’ve talked to have said, ‘Yeah, it’s rich coming from him.’ ”
Stephanie Cardinal, who worked for four and a half years at Le Vin Papillon, first as a sous chef and then as the chef de cuisine, said that McMillan and Morin were supportive when, last year, she worked to get sober. McMillan took her with him to A.A. meetings, even if they were held during her shifts. Still, she struggled with the demands of the job. She helped with the opening of Vin Mon Lapin, then returned to Le Vin Papillon. This past winter, fearing that she was burning out, she sat down with McMillan and Morin to discuss her situation. “Rather than telling me, ‘Yes, you should stay at Vin Papillon,’ or ‘Yes, let’s open up a restaurant together,’ they told me, ‘Steph, you’re twenty-eight,’ ” she said. “ ‘If you stay here at Vin Papillon, you’re going to find yourself a year from now hitting that same wall.’ ” In March, with McMillan and Morin’s encouragement, she left her job to figure out what she wanted to do next. She said, “Letting me go is the nicest gift they’ve ever given me.” ♦