A Drink With Curtis Stone

He’s an author of several cookbooks, including Good Food Good Life, and TV personality turned award-winning restaurateur. From Australia to the United Kingdom, and now based in the United States of America, Curtis Stone has captured our hearts with his relaxed and charming style.

Internationally-renowned for his roles on several reality food shows, Curtis Stone has found global appeal thanks to his simple, home-grown Australian culinary ethos, but behind the celebrity status, he is also a serious foodie and chef with the skills to prove it. Here, Wineries of Victoria discovers his journey and love for food.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

In spite of his success, Stone credits his mum and grandmother with teaching him a great deal of what he knows and loves about food and cooking.

“My mum, Lozza, is a great cook, in particular a phenomenal baker, and I would watch her every move while she baked. I still call on her regularly for advice when I’m developing recipes.”

Stone first found his passion for food while watching his grandmother Maude make her legendary Yorkshire fudge.

“I was four years old, just a little guy, when I had my first, truly memorable food experience. I tried my granny’s Yorkshire fudge and it was one of the first really sweet things that I’d tasted. I just couldn’t get enough of it. Whenever I went to granny’s place, from that first taste forward, we’d get busy in the kitchen and make fudge together. It was our thing.”

It was also around this ripe age of four that he tried his hand at cooking.

“I love to eat. I’ve always been a greedy little monster who can’t get enough food. Learning how to cook was sort of an extension of always wanting to eat. My best mate’s dad was a chef. He sort of lived this rock star lifestyle: he’d come in late from work and he had long hair and tattoos and he didn’t conform to my dad’s social circle where they all wore suits. I wanted what he had.”

A TASTE OF THINGS TO COME

Stone got his first taste of how a professional kitchen worked during his apprenticeship at the Savoy Hotel in Melbourne.

“It was complete madness: extreme heat, long hours, sharp objects, crazy people, blood, sweat and tears. It had my name all over it; I bloody loved it!”

When the time came to fly the coop in search of new challenges, Stone headed to London chasing a dream to work for Marco Pierre White – Britain’s most celebrated chef.

“His cookbook White Heat was the first I’d ever read. He had this huge reputation for being crazy, working ridiculous hours, and I knew I’d thrive working for him. I offered to work for free just to learn from the absolute pinnacle of chefs! This pivotal decision to seek out Marco paid off. I started working at the Grill Room (Café Royal) on the very same day I met him. This was a place where if you didn’t get fired that day, then you did a good job.”

After 12 months, Marco Pierre White opened a restaurant named Mirabelle. Stone was made chef de partie for six months, then promoted to sous chef the year they won their first Michelin star. One year later, Marco appointed Stone head chef of another of his restaurants in London, Quo Vadis. Here, he was able to explore and incorporate more Italian influences in the food. The following year they were one of the only four Italian restaurants to receive three rosette awards.

RESTAURANT ENDEAVOURS

Realising a lifelong dream, Curtis opened his first solo restaurant, Maude, located in Beverly Hills, California, in February 2014. Affectionately named after his late paternal grandmother, the restaurant pays homage to Curtis’ first culinary mentor whose sensibilities are resonant throughout the restaurant experience.

“The menu at Maude is a set twelve-course chef’s tasting menu that is created around one seasonal ingredient each month and creatively woven, to varying degrees, through each course. Some courses call for the hero ingredient to be at the centre of the plate, whilst at other times it plays a supporting role.”

Stone’s second restaurant, Gwen, takes its name from his maternal grandmother. The restaurant is both a European-style, chef-driven butcher shop and a restaurant with an elegant feast style menu presenting up to 20 dishes that call on fire-based cooking techniques.

Like Maude, Gwen has a fine-dining focus, but the produce in the adjoining butcher shop drives the menu.

“The heart of the restaurant, Gwen’s butcher shop not only drives the offerings in the dining room, but also caters to the home cook in its premium selection of products and hands- on guidance. The butchers find and make the best-tasting meats available to you, and also skillfully produce items like charcuterie, sausages and cook-ready foods prepared in- house daily.”

Surrounded by raw meat visibly hanging in glass-enclosed dry age rooms and whole animals roasting over a fire pit, dinner at Gwen is a visceral experience.

“The visuals at Gwen subtly call to mind our primitive past and are meant to offer a glimpse into the meal that’s about to unfold and how it came to be. These age-old cooking techniques are presented in a composed “feast” featuring up to 20 dishes within the menu. The main event is meat-centric highlighting the best the butcher shop has to offer. Complementing the main event are seasonal sides that we pull from the nearby Hollywood Farmers Market, just steps away from Gwen.”

FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD

After cooking in some of the world’s most amazing restaurants and being a restaurateur himself, Stone found a passion in creating recipes that show home cooks how to make delicious food for family and friends.

His philosophy to cook as Mother Nature intended inspires Curtis to cook with local, seasonal and organic ingredients and pay homage to fresh produce. Through his cookbooks that boast a relaxed and fun approach to home cooking, television programs, and influential partnerships with grocery stores, Curtis has helped shape the home cook nation and its shopping habits.

“My rules of thumb when dreaming up recipes is to think seasonal and cook the dishes that I personally like to eat. I think Mother Nature did a pretty good job when she worked out which ingredients belong to each season. If you use the right ingredients at the right time of year and treat them simply, it’s hard to go wrong.”

When it comes to his all-time favourite dish, Stone has a particular adoration for a rare commodity that signifies luxury to even the most jaded palates.

“I love any dish with white truffles, like tagliatelle or scrambled eggs with truffles. They totally move you. I have an instinctual attraction to them. From the very first time I smelt white truffles, I was like “oh my god, what do we have here?” I was working in one of Marco Pierre White’s restaurants and I can remember the truffle man coming in, opening the box and that was it, I was completely drawn in.”

Another go-to recipe Stone enjoys making that’s light, fresh and simple is spaghetti with garlic, lemon, kale and parmesan.

“I always have those ingredients on hand. I also love turkey meatballs with a homemade marinara sauce or a simple steak cooked perfectly on the barbecue to just medium-rare with a seasonal salad.”

WINING AND DINING

In spite of being based in California where some of the world’s best wines are made, Stone’s palate is still finely tuned to the taste of home-grown goodness, and says he “can’t go past Penfolds’ iconic full- bodied, intensely-flavoured Aussie shiraz”. A chef’s profession may be synonymous with stringent work and long hours, but there is a silver lining to the hard graft as Stone explains.

“When I go to my friends’ restaurants, I don’t ask to see the menu. Often the chef will simply take the menu out of our hands and will serve only the best dishes he or she can think up, using the finest quality ingredients to hand. It’s the royal treatment and what a great perk of being in the industry! I often enjoy the chef’s table or set tasting menu experiences so I can sit back, enjoy and focus on the food, wine and the company before me, rather make any decisions about what to order.”

Bringing confidence to the kitchen and happiness to the table, Stone continues to inspire professionals and food enthusiasts alike by sharing his culinary philosophy that he is known and admired for.