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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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Impress: Maggie Beer
Words by Mark Hughes on 1 Mar 2016
If there is one person who embodies the themes of nature and nurture, it is Maggie Beer. The nature side comes from her intuitive use of fresh, seasonal ingredients in her recipes and her vast range of food products. The nurture side from her background as a farmer, tending crops from seed to fruit in the wonderfully fertile soils of South Australia’s Barossa Valley. Of course, one could posit that Maggie’s nurturing element also comes from her wholesome, nourishing dishes that bring comfort to our bellies and warmth to our hearts. Or, from her soft caring nature. What you see on TV is what you get with Maggie. She comes across as very maternal, and she is. She’s thoughtful, happy and humble, very much like your best-loved auntie who cooks your favourite recipe, a dish that seemingly hugs your soul and lingers in your memory forever after. All this is quite remarkable when you discover the Maggie Beer story. Originally a Sydney girl, Maggie turned a fondness for food into a way of life when she married her true love, Colin, and moved to the Barossa to support him in his dream to farm pheasants. Maggie took to farm life like a duck to water, growing crops, preserving food, cooking and even starting up her own restaurant. Then she started making her own pâté - her first ‘product’. It was the start of her 35-year ‘overnight’ success. “It was only when I came to live in the Barossa 42 years ago that I really understood the seasons, because here we have four very distinct seasons and we live the rhythm,” Maggie tells me when we sit down for a chat on a warm day in the heart of the Barossa Valley. “All I have ever had to do to cook is follow it as it happens and relate to the produce at hand.” As her orders grew, so did her range, to pastes, jams, dips, oils and, of course, verjuice. In the early 1980s, festooned with an oversupply of Riesling grapes, Maggie turned adversity into opportunity. Having often read about an ingredient called ‘verjus’ in French country cookbooks, she produced what is thought to be the world’s first commercial batch of verjuice, a product these days synonymous with the name Maggie Beer. “I’m quite proud of the verjuice story,” says Maggie. “It’s been around since Roman times, but I’ve pulled it out of obscurity and lots of people have followed, and that’s wonderful because verjuice gives this lovely acid balance to food.”  What’s in a name? These days, Maggie Beer is a household name, the brand probably more so than the woman. It is a double-edged sword lending your name to a brand. It helps in the beginning to get recognition, but should the business grow, it can be like the mariner’s albatross, each weighing the other down. However, it is here where the yin and yang of life has rewarded Maggie. She has only ever given out love and respect, and it has come back to her. She is lauded as a matriarch of the Australian food scene and her business is a reflection of her, run in a morally healthy way by good, honest people. “I often have to pinch myself because I feel that coming to me and it’s not something you seek out,” Maggie says of the adoration she receives from the food loving public. That is not to say she hasn’t been shrewd and tough enough to make strong   business decisions. She admits she is a control freak, even cooking all the dishes for this photoshoot, But she has done it all her way. The natural, nurturing way. “I’ve always been onto this continuous improvement, it’s part of me, I’m driven. But all I have ever done, one step in front of the other, was do what I love and believe in it, without any grand plan, just loving the moment.”
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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