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Food

Curtis Stone - Inspire To Aspire

More Often Associated with the TV than the Kitchen, Curtis Stone is proving he is a Chef and Restauranteur to be reckoned with.

It may surprise many to learn that Curtis Stone only opened up his first restaurant a few years ago. Not that he intended to wait so long, it's just that he got offered a chance to be in a book, then appear on TV, then co-host a TV show. He's been on our screens ever since. Broad shouldered, blond haired, strong jawed, charismatic and attractive, and a genuinely nice guy. He is perfect for TV.

First came Surfing the Menu, with good mate, Ben O'Donoghue. He then hosted the first series of My Restaurant Rules on Channel 7 before going to the States to try his luck with a show called, Take Home Chef. It was a hit, Curtis even more so. He's since appeared on everything from Iron Chef America to Conan O'Brien. He's a regular on Oprah, and Ellen, and even starred on the Celebrity Apprentice with current US President Donald Trump.

Australians, too, instantly recognise Curtis, most often as the face of Coles. But somewhere amongst all this glitz and glamour, the identity of Curtis as a chef was lost. We know he can cook flavoursome, everyday meals. His six successful cookbooks confirm this with titles like Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone and What's for Dinner? But can he really cook? Like a top chef? A few impressive performances on cooking shows just wouldn't be enough. To really prove it, Curtis had to open his own restaurant.

Curtis' early career suggests he was well on the way to becoming a chef of renown. Completing an apprenticeship at The Savoy in Melbourne, he headed to London with a dream to work for culinary royalty, Marco Pierre White. Curtis met him. Marco liked the ambitious Aussie and put him to work that very day as a chef de partie at Café Royale. Just over a year later, Curtis was sous chef at Marco's Mirabelle when the restaurant won its first Michelin star. The following year, he was made head chef at another of Marco's restaurants, Quo Vadis. Curtis' future in the kitchen seemed bright - but an unexpected TV career burned brighter, while the flame of having his own restaurant always flickered inside.

Opening Daze

In February 2014, Curtis opened Maude in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, an intimate 24-seat restaurant named after one of his culinary inspirations, his paternal grandmother. For any chef, starting a restaurant invites scrutiny, for Curtis, it was monumental.

"I was looking down the barrel because I felt there was a long line of people dying to say, 'He's only a TV guy, just a pretty face, he can't really cook,' because there's a perception that chefs on TV are not real restaurant chefs," admits Curtis when we speak after the Selector photoshoot in LA.

"Also, on a personal note, the kitchen had changed a lot in the six or so years I was out of it - different technology and techniques. Sous vide wasn't something I had done a lot of, there were no isi canisters (foams), no dehydrators - it was a very different environment. Not that I had stopped cooking, I had just stopped cooking in a restaurant.

"So I had a challenge: do I ignore it? Or do I go on a journey of learning again? That was more exciting for me, so I rolled my sleeves up and got back to it."

Curtis aimed high with Maude: a 10-course degustation menu focused around an item of seasonal produce… Oh, and the menu changes every month.

"I call it the creative treadmill, you're just never allowed off the bloody thing," jokes Curtis. "The first week you are teaching everyone what to do on their sections, week two you are dreaming of the new menu but still running the kitchen. Week three you have to perfect everything for the next menu and show it to your wine team, because they need a week to order stuff in, then the last week you are prepping people for what's coming. Then at the end of the month you literally throw it all away and start again.

"It is a very exciting restaurant to work in because you are constantly learning, teaching, figuring stuff out, making mistakes, but that is a part of the creative process and it has been so fulfilling."

And successful. The ever-evolving menu means regulars keep coming back. New bookings are near impossible. And the critics love Maude, too.

The esteemed James Beard Foundation named it one of the Best New Restaurants in the USA. The LA Weekly rated it the Best Restaurant in Los Angeles 2015 with the publication's food critic Besha Rodell gushing, "Maude's seasonal menus have been some of the most subtly thrilling meals I've had in Los Angeles."

Ode to Nan

In July last year, Curtis doubled his aspirations and his massive workload, (not withstanding his TV commitments and the fact he has two young sons with wife Lindsay) when he opened his second restaurant, Gwen, named after his maternal nan, in the heart of Hollywood.

In many ways, it is the yin to Maude's yang. Where Maude is small, restrained and largely veggie based, Gwen is large, lavish and meaty. Housed in a 1920s art deco building on Sunset Boulevard, the fit out is stunning with a dining room that recalls the golden years of Hollywood. There's an a la carte menu at the bar and a fixed umpteen-course menu in the dining room. Gwen is all at once, a restaurant, a cocktail bar, a patio hang-out, and a butcher shop. Yep, a butcher shop.

"It is a pretty special joint," says Curtis, laconically. "Something I always missed in LA was a great butcher shop, and when I say great butcher shop, I mean one that sources game, does whole animal butchery and has different cuts.

"My idea was, if you've got a butcher shop and a restaurant, then you can create a use for anything you buy in. I was just in the shop cutting some pheasant terrine for a customer. We bought that pheasant in two days ago and I turned it into a terrine, which I can sell in the shop or in the restaurant. So you never waste anything."

Curtis Stone's 80-Day Dry Aged Ribeye with Creamed Corn and Scallions

"We actually have those rib-eyes 80 days in the dry aged room, and we roast it medium rare over the wood burning grill. The creamed corn is this pretty incredible accompaniment. What we do is we take the kernels off and we take the centre of the cobs and we boil the husk of the corn which gives you a really gorgeous corn-flavoured stock and then you bring the corn back up and the corn has a natural thickening quality to it. That is why corn flavour or corn starch is used as a thickening agent. So it will actually thicken on its own. So if you cook it very gently, that juice will thicken and we will do that with the corn so it is this beautiful caramel-y flavour that you can develop into cream corn. And then the spring onions are great for a little crunch and a little richness in terms of the flavour that you get."

Wine Match: A steak dish with this richness of flavour will pair perfectly with a classic Barossan Shiraz. The Stage Door Front and Centre Shiraz 2015 shows spicy aromas of dark cherry fruit with violet perfume. Juicy yet poised with a supple core of blackberry and plum, hints of toasty oak complexity and a gentle spicy lift.

Get Curtis Stone's 80 day dry-aged ribeye with creamed corn and charred scallions recipe here

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Food
What Curtis did Next
Words by Shonagh Walker on 30 Aug 2018
Despite two enormously successful restaurants creating a buzz throughout LA, Curtis Stone isn’t sitting still. Shonagh Walker toured California’s Central Coast with the celebrity chef, to uncover exactly what’s in store for his diners for the remainder of 2018. Curtis Stone is standing waist deep in the freezing seawater of Morro Bay, CA, shucking a Pacific Gold Oyster that he’s just plucked from the farm’s submerged harvest. He hands it to me, beaming his signature smile. Exhaustion is tugging at the corners of his sparkling blue eyes, but enthusiasm for the deep-cupped mollusc quickly turns them upwards again. We are at the tail end of a hectic 18 hours a day, five-day immersive tour of California’s Central Coast, a region famed for its local produce, stellar seafood and mind-blowing wines (divine Burgundian varietals: Pinot Noir to die for and an incredible array of Chardonnay). The aim is to seek inspiration for the upcoming menu of his Beverly Hills fine dining restaurant, Maude. While the seafood and seasonal offerings of this region are truly unsurpassed, if I’m being honest, we are really here for the wines.
You see, Curtis has yet again disrupted the concept of conventional fine dining and, as with everything he does, he’s done so with gusto. Where traditional menus decree full control to the chef, demanding wine pairings are made to meld with cuisine creativity, Curtis abdicated to Head Sommelier, Andrey Tolmachyov. The 26 year old now has the enviable task of travelling to the world’s best wine regions to curate a list based around the finest on offer. First, it was Rioja, Spain. Then came Burgundy, France and this quarter (July to September) it’s the sun-spoiled Central Coast of California. After each meticulous research trip, Tolmachyov curates the wines he is to feature for the three months. From there, Curtis and executive chef, Justin Hilbert devise a menu using ingredients from the same region to enhance the drops. It’s a change of tack for Maude, which for the past four years has focused on one ingredient per month and created a degustation experience around it, with wines stepping up only to match the food. Curtis explains: “After doing 48 menus with no dish repeated, we wanted something completely new. The wine program had really blossomed, with such amazing and talented sommeliers, but the pairings were always done last. We decided work backwards; go to a wine region, be inspired by the wine and the local regionality and dishes, then talk to the wine team about what they wanted and what would pair well with that wine and create a menu from that.”
And here we are, soaking up the afternoon sun, eating freshly shucked oysters and sipping some incredible local drops from nearby family run estate, Demetria in the picturesque town of Los Olivos. The frutti del mar is a massive hit, as is the wine. While Andrey remains tight lipped on the 2017 Rose, I get a good vibe from Curtis that the oysters will make an appearance on the menu. Thus far, the trip has taken us through what is undoubtedly some of America’s finest coastline and we have indulged in all manner of delicacy and drinks. In Santa Barbara, we’ve sampled sea urchin caught by Stephanie Mutz, a rare fishing scientist and the only female sea urchin diver in the state. In Cambria, we’ve indulged in the finest goat milk cheeses from Stepladder Creamery and we’ve sampled more exquisite wines than is fair in one lifetime, from an array of award-winning estates peppered throughout this jewel of a coastline. We’ve also scoured local farmers markets in San Luis Obispo and eaten at some of the state’s most celebrated restaurants (think: Santa Barbara’s Lark, Paso Robles’ Fish Gaucho and San Simeon’s Ragged Point Restaurant).
It sounds glamorous but it’s actually arduous, demanding and wearying. Pre-dawn starts fused into day-long driving, foraging and physical work. But such is Curtis’ way. He quite simply never stops. There’s no rest for the innovator, as it would be. The resulting debut Cali Coast dinner at Maude’s a few days later is a true feast of flavours – oyster bread (made using the aforementioned Morro Bay oysters), abalone, rock crab with summer truffles, served with grilled crab mayonnaise and spot prawn with peach fermented in beeswax and, of course, all matched with those delicious wines. So, if you’re in LA make sure you stop by Maude’s to taste Curtis’ innovative wine-focused menu. Get there now for the Tastes of California, or book in for the next quarter’s food & wine adventure – Italy’s delectable Piedmont province. Maude is located at: 212S Beverly Drive Beverly Hills, CA. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 5.30PM- 9.30PM Tel: + 1 310 859 3418 mauderestaurant.com.au
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