The Tastemakers: Curtis Stone
Welcome to The Tastemakers, a series in which we chat with the most talented, connected and influential people in the world of food and drink.
Curtis Stone remembers having his first "truly memorable food experience" at the age of four in his grandmother's kitchen. "I tried my granny's Yorkshire fudge, and it was one of the first really sweet things that I'd tasted," he says. "I just couldn't get enough of it."
From that bite forward, Stone followed his passion for food, all the way from cooking in the kitchen with his granny to his chef apprenticeship at the Savoy Hotel in Melbourne. When the time came to look for a job, Stone sought out London's Marco Pierre White, who Stone describes as "Britain's most celebrated (and feared) chef."
"I walked through the back door of one of his restaurants and asked for a job," he says. "I began working that same afternoon and worked for Marco for eight formative years."
Since then, Stone has appeared on a number of food television programs on ABC, NBC and the Food Network, with stints on Top Chef Masters and The Celebrity Apprentice under his belt as well. In 2014, he opened his own restaurant, Maude, in Beverly Hills.
We chatted with Stone about the projects he's working on, the food cities he loves and the lessons he's learned from food television.
What does a typical day look like for you?
"When I'm in Los Angeles, a typical day begins with a 6 a.m. start with my one-year-old, Emerson, who is up at the crack of dawn. I take my time to make breakfast, and we linger around the table together in the morning. We have a veggie garden, so I head out there with my four-year-old, Hudson, to pick fresh fruit and veggies for our juice and breakfast.
Following some time at home with the family, I'll head in to my office in Beverly Hills for a few hours to take some meetings and phone calls and catch up with my team. My office and test kitchen are located on the same premises, so I'll be testing and tasting dishes for my restaurant, Maude, as well. I also develop hundreds of recipes for home cooks each year. So between those recipes and both restaurants, there is always something bubbling away on the stovetop in the test kitchen. Maude is just a short walk from my office, so I'll spend the afternoons there, prepping for service, which kicks off at 5:30 p.m., and stay through service and clean up and pack down. A long night in the restaurant is often signed off with a roadside taco on the way home.
I must reiterate that this is loosely what a typical day in L.A. looks like, but I feel very fortunate to have opportunities that take me traveling all over the globe as well. Even when I'm in L.A., I'll find myself in every corner of the expansive city working on interesting projects at any given time."
What's the most exciting thing you've worked on in the last year?
"My new restaurant, Gwen, which is opening up this summer. My brother, Luke; co-chef Chad Colby; and I have teamed up to take over a 1920s building in the heart of Hollywood. We're currently in the throes of turning the 5,900-square-foot space into a European-style, chef-driven butcher retail space selling prime and rare-breed meats, poultry, house-made charcuterie and dry cures, as well as an adjoining meat-centric restaurant named Gwen."
What's your go-to meal when cooking for yourself at home?
"A pasta dish like spicy salami rigatoni with olives and capers. It's a go-to weeknight recipe in the Stone home, because it calls on staple pantry ingredients such as dried pasta, capers, olives, white wine, as well as fresh tomatoes, which can be picked from the garden for those with a vine at home. I serve this delicious pasta dish with a very simple salad; you don't want a lot of complicated flavors to compete with the sauce."
What are a few things you've learned in your experiences in food television?
"Some of my experiences with food television have led to changing my whole outlook on food. For example, filming one of my first shows when I was 27 years old, Surfing the Menu, marked the beginning of a real learning curve for me. On Surfing the Menu, I would meet a farmer and hear about his passion for a certain ingredient. It helped me to develop more respect for food. I met a mussel farmer, and he spoke about the drought and how it had affected the size of the mussels. There wasn't as much runoff of rain into the ocean, and so there were less nutrients in the water. I didn't really appreciate how the health of the ocean affected the health of the mussels before that experience. It really got me thinking about where I sourced my food from and helped shape my food philosophy. To this day, I'm very passionate about and spend a lot of time with farmers in the field."
What's one city you'd travel to just for the food?
"London. I spent eight years in my 20s there working for Marco Pierre White, and London is where I really fell in love with the fine dining experience. I would save up all my pennies so that I could spend them on exquisite dinners in London and all over Europe."
Who are a few people you really admire in the food industry?
"That's a hard one, because I admire so many chefs and professionals in the food industry the world over. To be honest though, the first group of people who spring to mind are my own restaurant and culinary team—that includes FOH, sommeliers, chefs, dishwashers. . . . Every piece of the puzzle is just as important as the next. I always say any good chef should surround him or herself with other chefs who are just as good, if not better, so he/she can continue to grow and push boundaries. My team is quite steadily growing in size, and I'm constantly excited and inspired by their ideas, technique, passion and dedication. Everything I do these days for my business is the result of a real team effort, and I'm lucky to work alongside some of the best people in the food business."
What advice would you give to young chefs who are just getting their start?
"My advice for aspiring chefs is to really understand why you want to become a chef. Once you understand that, your path will become much clearer. If it's because you love fine dining and you thrive in the heat and intensity of a crazy kitchen, then where you need to be is in a great, Michelin-starred/award-winning restaurant. If it's because you love creativity and you love making food look beautiful, then maybe there is another path for you to take, like food styling or pastry work. There's so much opportunity out there, and once you really identify what it is you want to do (and this may take some trial and experimentation within fine dining restaurants, events, culinary school, whatever), just hone in and go for it.
I strongly believe that a good solid foundation; putting in the blood, sweat and tears; and learning from the best in the industry will always put you in great stead in your career. Seek out places and people you admire and aspire to be like, and work your butt off."
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