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.
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."
"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