Original title: David McMillan : The reformed Viking
For years, David McMillan, chef-owner of Joe Beef, was known for eating and drinking like a Viking. However, things changed drastically for the famous restaurateur in 2018, the year he decided to regain control of his life and finally face his addiction. Now, as he reaches 50, quebec’s most popular chef met with us to talk about a whole new life.
Chef McMillan, what made you turn your life around in 2018?
I’ve lost many colleagues over the years. I’ve seen very talented, well-organized chefs lose everything because of drug addiction, gambling or alcohol. In my case, I had five restaurants, a cottage up north, an enormous wine cellar, my dream car, real estate, money, and three beautiful children—but I was miserable, hungover all the time and stressed because of my drinking. At that age, it was important for me to be seen as someone with integrity, ethics, principles; a good father, a good boss, and a good mentor. My excessive wine drinking, however, prevented me from becoming the man I wanted to be. So, I stopped!
Now that you have been sober for two years, have you become the man that you wanted to be?
Not yet—one is never perfect—but I do really like the person I am becoming. I’m almost 50, I like feeling a sense of peace and being free of stress, anxiety and headaches. In short, I have found serenity.
More specifically, how has sobriety changed your life, personally and professionally?
When you’re drinking, you’re very happy, very sad, or very angry. Thanks to therapy and the work I’ve done on myself, I’m learning to be even-tempered, to be composed. I’m managing my anxiety, I work better with others, I’m more paternal with my children, and with my employees. When you’re an alcoholic, you’re very self-centred: “What am I going to eat? What am I going to drink with it? What am I going to do tonight? Me, me, me.” When you get out of this vicious circle, you can finally enjoy the scenery, reach out to others and be a better person. I’m a lot less materialistic as well. I now realize that I need very little: a glass of lemonade, some tasty soup and good conversation are enough for me.
Now that you have overcome your own addiction, you are trying to help others in the industry. Why is the mental health of your team so important to you?
We realized that we used to fire people because they had a drinking problem, but that’s ridiculous. You would never fire someone because they had cancer or financial woes. If we look at the statistics, some 30% of the population will exhibit risky behaviour at some point in their lives. This number is even higher in the restaurant industry because we’re a gang of pirates, working nights. So, I would say that the 30% figure is closer to 50% in this industry, and I employ a staff of 140 people. That is a lot of potential addiction to manage.
Can you tell me about the community you have created?
We’ve created a not-for-profit called Remise en Place (@remiseenplace on Instagram) for everyone in the restaurant industry. There are two meetings a week, one in English and one in French. It’s like an AA meeting, but we’re not associated with that organization. We offer help, discuss options, talk and, if people have serious problems, find the resources to send them to a professional. In short, we want to be there for people rather than kick them out and wash our hands of them. I used to be quite curt and didn’t show a lot of affection; I was direct and didn’t go easy on people. Today, it’s different; I’m a lot more open. When I see someone suffering, I have no problem giving them a hug. Sometimes, that’s all someone needs as a wake-up call.
Finally, are you planning to launch any new projects?
Over the past two years, I’ve learned that I already have enough. I’ve practically stopped giving interviews. I’m not writing any more books, I’m not opening any new restaurants, and I’m ready to make a lot less noise in the culinary space. I’ve had 15 incredible years with a lot of media coverage and many successful projects, but now I want to start slowly stepping back.
His five restaurants : Joe Beef, Liverpool House, Vin Papillon, Mon Lapin and McKiernan