Celebrated Montreal chef and restaurant owner David McMillan has fed many a high-profile celebrity.
But a visit from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former U.S. president Barack Obama on Tuesday evening will stand out in his memory for years to come. The duo's dinner at Liverpool House was well-documented on social media, attracting large crowds and calling for heavy security.
As McMillan, co-owner of Montreal's Joe Beef and Liverpool House restaurants and Le Vin Papillon wine bar, told The Globe and Mail, the night will go down in his books as a "career highlight."
What was involved in the preparation for this visit?
Well, the PM comes a lot. I've been cooking for the PM since before he was PM. I've been cooking for Justin more or less my whole professional career. We're kind of the same age, and we grew up in the city together. We're friends from way back when. Now he's PM, so it's different. You know, before he would text me, but now he doesn't.
The reservation came in through the PM's office maybe last week. Usually we get a security call a couple days before. Once a security team came through, then another one, and then another one. So we were up to three security teams. Then we put two and two together on Monday that Obama was in town on Tuesday. The PM's office officially told us yesterday around three, but we kind of already knew. When we saw the RCMP shutting the street down and putting barricades up at the corners, we knew that something was up.
How long did they stay?
They stayed from 7 til 10:30.
Did you have to shut the restaurant down?
No. No, no, no. I won't. I'd never do that.
I don't know if you know how Liverpool works. There's kind of two spaces. There's a long bar, so what we did for them was we kept the bar empty. And there's a little kind of private area near the kitchen. It's kind of a noisy area, but that's where Justin likes to sit. So they just sat at his regular table.
What did they eat?
They had oysters, smoked trout, Nova Scotia fresh halibut with morels, white asparagus, lobster spaghetti and a big rib steak for two. And I had some Norman Hardie wine on the table to represent my friends in Ontario. That was pretty much it. They were chill. They had fun.
When Trudeau usually comes, does he have any specific dishes that he likes to order?
Whatever's on the menu, generally. Whatever's fresh. Always oysters.
How would you describe the atmosphere when they were there?
It was definitely charged. People love Justin already, and people love Barack Obama. So people were really happy to see him. The crowd amassed outside the restaurant. The word got out.
Did they interact with other customers?
No, there was a lot of security as you can imagine. There was an amazing amount of security.
Was there security inside the kitchen as well?
Yeah, a couple of guys in the kitchen, for sure, checking the back door, checking the pass a little bit.
Who picked up the tab?
I don't really know. I think he was invited to Liverpool House by the Canadian government, by the PM, so I imagine the PM, but I'm not really sure.
How well did they tip?
Oh, I would never give you that information. But they never tip above and beyond. It's normal. Like normal.
What did you and your team do after the service was finished?
I think Obama is an old hat at this and he knows people want pictures and so he called pictures right away. He said, "Okay, picture time!" He wanted to take pictures with the guys in the kitchen. He wanted to take pictures with the wait staff. He wanted to take pictures with Justin's crew. He got a picture with my daughter, which was really neat. He asked my daughter about school, and how she was doing, which was really, really great.
Is that your daughter in the photo you tweeted?
Correct, that's my 13-year-old Dylan. She came and I brought her to the bar. Once the ex-president left, my daughter sat with Justin and they did selfies together, and that was pretty neat.
What did she make of the experience?
You know, she's a little girl, very impressed. It's a big deal. All of her friends are texting her. It's really cute. And to be able to do that as a dad, it's great. My daughter will remember that for the rest of her life.
We work a lot in the restaurant and we have career highlights. And that's a career highlight. I've been lucky in my career to cook for a lot of great people. You know, Mick Jagger, tons of actors and this and that. Obama, I think, was a singular president and the PM's great. Justin is fantastic with people. So it was a great evening. The security was great with the customers and with the crowd. It was smooth and there were lots of smiles.
Did you have any exchanges with Obama that will stick in your memory?
Justin said, "Come here, David, I want you to meet Barack." I said, "Hi, Mr. Obama, I can't wait til your wife is the next president of the United States." He got a chuckle out of that.
And then he said, "How did you get into cooking?"
I told him I used to work in a small restaurant when I was young, like 19 years old. I was a dishwasher, and one day I went upstairs to make salads and soup because someone was sick, and the first person who ever told me I made good food was Justin's dad. Pierre Elliot came into the kitchen and said, "Who made that salad? Who made that soup?"
Justin had never heard that story. I thought I had told him, but he said, "What do you mean? You didn't tell me that story?" And I go, "No, man, that was my first day in the kitchen and your dad gave me the big thumbs-up." So they both got a chuckle out of that.
And then, we left them to themselves. They sat for half an hour, just the PM and the ex-president. They chatted a little bit, and after they were done chatting and had a sip of wine, it was time for dinner. So Justin's people – three more people – were added to the table, so there were five. They had a nice dinner, and that was it.
When the ex-president left the front door of the restaurant, by that time, I'd say there were 800 or 900 people outside and the whole crowd let out a huge roar of approval. He kind of stood up on the side of the car and waved at everybody, and they got in the car and took off.
The PM came back in, had a drink and said bye to everybody, and it was a really nice evening. We were all wrapped up by 11:30. Yeah, it was good.
This interview has been condensed and edited.