Curtis Stone Encourages People To Entertain With Gathar - Exclusive Interview

Australian culinary master Curtis Stone has become a fan-favorite celebrity chef thanks to his many appearances on shows like "Iron Chef" and "Top Chef Masters," always displaying his good-humored and energetic personality on screen. When he's not wowing audiences with his creations on TV, he's doing so with his restaurants — Maude and Gwen (both in the heart of Los Angeles) and Georgie in Dallas.

But Stone's latest project sees him focusing on a booking platform called Gathar, which makes it a breeze for people to hire private chefs for their own events. Already a hit in Australia, Gathar has now launched in Los Angeles with plans to expand across the state and in other locations around the U.S. in the upcoming months. During an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Stone discussed all things about Gathar, upcoming menu items at Maude, professional cooking tips and tricks for at-home chefs, celebrity encounters, and more.

Meeting the queen

What was it like meeting the queen? Why did you get to meet her?

They did a reception for Australians living in London, which I was at the time. They invited certain ... I'm not sure how they classified it, but "movers and shakers" from different industries, I guess. They invited me and my co-star on a show — Ben O'Donoghue, who's also an Aussie and was also living in London. We were invited to Buckingham Palace, and we met the queen, and we met Prince Phillip in one of the stately rooms. We had afternoon tea, and it was very, very sweet. It was one of those moments in your life that you can't quite believe is happening to you. It was really cool.

Did you get to meet any other members of the royal family?

I didn't. I had cooked at different times for Princess Anne and Princess Margaret, but by having them come in. They would come into my restaurant in London, actually. But meeting the queen was certainly a unique experience. She was actually very funny, and she was very personable. She took time with her guests and chatted to us, and she made a couple of jokes. Somebody else made a joke that she thought was ridiculously funny, and she was really lovely.

A taste of fall

Can you share a bit about what is on the fall menu at Maude?

We've got all sorts of things on the menu down there. It's a 10-course menu. We always keep it very tight and closely linked to Southern California. As the summer wraps up and we move on into fall, we're playing with a variety of ... We use luxurious ingredients, but we also use simple things that are from the region. There's a dish with cactus. 

Chef Osiel Gastelum, who's our chef down there, is of Mexican descent. He loves playing with those Southern California-Mexican ingredients. We make an aguachile out of cucumber. We brine the petals of nopales, and we serve them with the aguachile, and it's a little bit of avocado as well. Coming out of the end of summer, [that's] an example of a dish there. There's a fantastic caviar dish on at the moment; we've got a gorgeous lamb dish on and lots of different things.

What is your favorite fall produce to cook with?

In Southern California, we do have a very interesting climate. I can buy wonderful carrots right now, and they're coming out of the high desert where they're already producing beautiful carrots. Then I can also buy brilliant tomatoes out of San Diego, and you shouldn't be able to buy those two things in the one season anywhere else in the country, but here we can.

As fall rolls around, the late summer, we still get these fabulous melons. As soon as fall kicks in, we move into all of these great squashes that we have available to us over here. That's one of the things that we love cooking with. Different mushrooms [and] sunchokes come into season, but mushrooms come into their own.

All about pie

Switching over to Gwen, when will the pie room at Gwen be reopening? Is it going to be the same concept and same location and everything?

Well, what we've done is we got our hands on a commercial bakery ... When we did the pie room, we did it out of Maude, and we had one rational oven, so we could literally bake 20 pies at once. That was our limit.

Now, with a proper commercial kitchen and bakery, we have deck ovens and all of the things that we need. We've started building that kitchen the way we want it and fine-tuning it to be super-efficient. I don't have a date yet. We'll get the product right first, and then we'll probably decide exactly how we bring the pie room back to Gwen. But we will certainly be making the pies available for people to pre-order and pick up both from the butcher shop and probably a delivery element as well. That plan's just starting to unfold now.

What is, in your opinion, the most underrated pie filling?

I love rabbit pies, which I know are not particularly popular here in the States, but when you braise the legs of the rabbit, they fall apart. It's a very delicate flavor, which allows the crust of the pie to speak in volume. I make a velouté sauce, and you either do it with mushrooms or leeks. That rabbit fricassee ... a little bit of mustard is always nice with rabbit, too, a mixture of dijon and seeded mustard.

Grilling tips and tricks

Gwen offers an amazing selection of Australian steaks and Wagyu, but do you have a favorite budget steak?

A hanger steak is a good option. I also am a big fan of flank, which is reasonable in price. Every cut can be wonderful if you cook it the right way. The onglet is really nice. My absolute favorite cut is the spinalis, which is the top moon-shaped piece within the ribeye. But the hanger is a good value option.

Do you have any grilling tips that you can share for making any cut of steak taste good?

You need four things. The first thing is you need to temper your meat, so it has to come out of the fridge. Firstly, you need great quality meat, and it should be dry aged if possible and all that good stuff. But assuming you've got what you've got, you need to take it out of the fridge for 40 minutes to an hour before you start cooking it. That allows it to temper and come up to room temperature, so you don't get that red in the center and gray on the outside.

The second thing you need is to preheat whatever it is that you are going to cook on. Whether it be your grill or your non-stick cookware or cast iron cookware, it doesn't matter as long as it's red hot, because you need to get that char and that sear on your steak quite quickly.

You pre-season it before you put it onto the grill, you get the color, and you remove it. Once you're happy with the color, you remove it. Depending on how thick your steak is, you may have to put it back. You might even want to turn your grill or your pan down and put it back for a secondary cook.

What you don't want to do is cook it all the way through and then cut into it. I always say you rest it in the middle of the cooking, and you rest it at the end of the cooking. That's that last point — let it rest for half the time it takes to cook. If it's cooking for 30 minutes, you rest it for 15. If it's cooking for five, you rest it for two and a half. That's it. That gets you to the perfect grilled steak.

LA vs. Dallas dining

You have a restaurant called Georgie that opened in Dallas a few years ago. Have you noticed any major differences in LA and Dallas dining habits?

There's a thousand differences. They are very different cities. We saw it through the pandemic — we've been open there for ... oh, goodness, I want to say four years in Dallas now. Through the pandemic, the behavior was really different. They just got on with it. They weren't as worried about masks. The restaurants stayed in business. People kept frequenting them. In other parts of the country, people were a lot more nervous. That was different.

In terms of the dining, in Dallas, people go out to celebrate and to party. They go out to have fun, and they order up big — they want big steaks. It's a very sophisticated diner in Dallas, which I wasn't surprised by, because I've heard that and I've gone there and observed it, but it was pleasantly reinforced to me that they take their food seriously and they love it. They love celebrating around the dinner table.

Get ready to Gathar

You recently launched Gather, a booking platform that allows people to reserve private chefs. Can you tell us more about Gathar and what the inspiration behind it was?

The inspiration behind it was to make life simple for people that don't have crazy budgets but still want to entertain at home. When I talk about Gather, for some reason, I talk about Uber, because I remember moving to LA and realizing that it was super expensive to organize a town car. They had a minimum of four hours that you needed to book them, and it was hundreds of dollars per hour. Unless you were having a giant night out or with a group of friends and sharing the cost, it was super cost prohibitive. 

We know a lot of private chefs, and with a lot of these private chefs and caterers, it's the same thing. If someone rang me and said, "Can you do a dinner for six people?" I'd be like, "Wow. Yeah, if it was a huge budget dinner party, then sure." Otherwise, it wouldn't be worth me getting the vans on the road and the chefs in the kitchen.

What Gather did is not dissimilar to what Uber did, where they matched someone that wants to drive you with someone that wants a ride, and they do that at different levels. With Gathar, you can entertain at home for a small group or a larger group, and you can do it at different price points. For a while, a private chef was only for someone that had a huge budget or entertained a lot at home. That's what it used to be. Now, it's for absolutely everyone. You can have someone come over and help you with a backyard barbecue. You can have someone put together a five-course menu. The best part is that they do the cooking, they do the shopping, but then they also do the cleaning, and they take care of business at the end of the party.

When you go next to a restaurant with a group of friends, take a look at the bill and see how much you spent on the alcohol. Think about if you were drinking your own alcohol, what that would've cost. The beauty of entertaining at home is you get to be in the privacy of your own home, and you can choose the music, and you can stay up as late as you want, or you can kick people out whenever you want. When you're in a restaurant environment, you are fitting in with what someone else has set ... which is nice. Don't get me wrong; I'm a restaurateur and I love restaurants. But there's something special about being able to control that at home, save money on the drinks that you would normally be buying in a restaurant environment ... It's a wonderful experience.

The fun thing is, you go on and you menu shop. You're like, "Oh, an Italian feast. Oh, a seafood feast." You get all this inspiration, and ultimately, once you get connected with your culinarian, you can tell them exactly what you want, and they'll go ahead and do it. Or you can choose something that they've put together and offered in the way of a menu. It is a lovely way to throw a party.

Time on television

Where in the country has Gathar launched?

It's just in LA right now. It was an Australian concept. We brought it from Australia, and we've launched it into the States. Your country's a little bigger than ours, and [there's] a few more people, so we're going to take it step by step. We've launched it to LA first, which is doing incredibly well, and we'll keep going. I think Dallas will be our next protocol.

You spent a decent amount of time on various cooking shows and TV shows. Did you always plan on taking that route when it came to expanding your career, or was it a random opportunity that you took?

It was totally by accident. I was working in London and working in restaurants, and I got asked to be a part of a book called "London's Finer Chefs." I was flattered and excited to give them some of my recipes and be up against, or included in, this incredible set of wonderful chefs. From that, I got asked to do a TV appearance to promote the book when it came out, and they asked me back to do another appearance.

It just happened like that. One thing led to the next. I was never turned off by it; I was always open to it when someone asked me to do it. I was like, "Sure, I'll do it. I'll try it. Why not?" Back then, too, it wasn't like there were a bunch of chefs on TV. It was a different time — it didn't exist. It wasn't a cool job back then. It was just working in restaurants.

It's been an interesting ride that's taken me on different journeys, but I've always been grateful and determined to get back into a restaurant kitchen and do what I love, which is cook beautiful food in a small environment. I'm lucky to have been able to dip a toe in both sides.

The most nerve-racking celebrity encounter

You've worked with Oprah, Marco Pierre White, and Donald Trump — which situation did you find the most intimidating and why?

That's easy — Marco Pierre White. He was the best chef in the world at that time. When I first went over there, it was going to meet your God. He was the person that everyone in the industry was looking up to, and I really wanted to work for him. I went over and started — I moved to London for that very reason — and walked in the back door of his restaurant and asked for a job. It's a very nerve-racking moment when you do that.

To then be in the presence of someone as talented as him with such high standards as him — you don't want to let him down. You try your very best. Ultimately, you're not at the standard that you need to be at. It takes a while to sharpen those tools and finally get to a place where you're not disappointing. Without question, he was the one I cared the most about and also the one that I was most intimidated by, but I worked for him for eight years. [I have] a huge amount of respect for Marco; he's an incredible chef. I wouldn't change anything.

Gathar is now available to use in Los Angeles.

This interview was edited for clarity.