Curtis Stone’s cooking career began humbly in his grandmother’s kitchen in Melbourne, Australia, but it didn’t take him long to end up in the celebrity-chef spotlight. After cutting his teeth at the local Savoy Hotel, he ventured halfway around the world to London, where he worked under the renowned Marco Pierre White. As he ascended the ranks from chef de partie at Pierre White’s Mirabelle to head chef at Soho institution Quo Vadis, Stone’s easy Aussie charm and surfer-dude good looks caught the attention of TV producers in both the UK and back home Australia. In 2007, he made the transition to celluloid as the co-host of Surfing The Menu.
Several mainstream U.S. TV gigs and bestselling cookbooks later, Stone has become synonymous with easy-going dishes that reflect his laid-back demeanor. He has always been a man of simple, if unusual, tastes. “My earliest food memory is of sitting on the kitchen bench at the age of five, running raisins down a stick of butter and popping them in my mouth,” he says.
I love that my TV work enables me to reach a lot of people, but when you want to cook at a higher level, a restaurant is the only place to do it.
These days, his style is marked by unexpected uses of organic, local produce. At his celebrated new restaurant, Maude, in L.A.’s Beverly Hills, Stone and his chefs have created a $75, nine-course tasting menu inspired by one hyper-seasonal ingredient each month (for March, it’s artichoke).
He admits it’s a challenging concept to get right: “The week before the new menu starts I’m refining the dishes, then I’m implementing the dishes, and by the middle of the month I’m already thinking about the one ahead…. It’s like having a new bloody restaurant every month!” Still, he’s excited to get behind the burner between stints as a regular co-host on The Chew.
“I guess I was looking for a creative outlet where I could express myself a little differently,” Stone says. “I love that my TV work enables me to reach a lot of people, but when you want to cook at a higher level, a restaurant is the only place to do it.”
Read on to discover the 10 dishes that have shaped Curtis Stone’s career, from sugary fudge made by his English granny (and restaurant’s namesake) Maude, to mole at his favorite Mexican restaurant in L.A.’s Koreatown.
Granny Maude’s fudge
My granny, Maude, was actually from the north of England, and she used to make this delicious, really sugary fudge. When I was a five-year-old boy, she taught me the recipe and it’s really what sparked my interest in food. She’s been gone for seven or eight years now, but I wanted to name the restaurant after her to keep those memories alive. (Photo: suppersfromscratch.wordpress.com)
Mum’s pork-leg roast
My mum’s pork-leg roast with delicious crackling and crispy potatoes is a dish she cooks brilliantly. It sounds really simple; just a little roast pork with crunchy potatoes, but my mum makes this dish taste extraordinary. I make sure her roast pork is on our Christmas table every year. Mastering traditional dishes like this is important. Once you feel confident with classics, you can get experimental and try something that pushes you further. (Photo: BBC)
Homemade pasta in Francavilla, Italy
The first time that I travelled outside of Australia was in 1998. I was 21 years old and had that particular blend of swagger and stupidity that young men have when they get their first real taste of freedom. I traveled with my best mate Tommy and, after some exhilarating experiences such as running with the bulls in Pamplona and dancing the night away in the Greek Islands, we decided to head to Tommy’s family home in Calabria, Italy.
Tommy’s parents emigrated from this beautiful place a few decades before, but his entire extended family—on both sides—still lived in Francavilla. Very soon into our stay, I knew what we were there to do: eat. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with the three generations of women cooking in there, spanning the ages 20 to 80, and it was there that I fell in love with making homemade pasta. The cooks would give me small jobs, dicing onions or slicing eggplant, and eventually I graduated to making fresh pasta. There were never any recipes to read or measuring cups to gauge the proper amounts, and I still didn’t speak a lick of Italian. I just had to watch and follow their lead. I went on to perfect the art of making homemade pasta in my early restaurant life in London by rolling it every day. Now, I’m back to doing it again at Maude. (Photo: Bon Appetit)
Carpaccio of beef at Quo Vadis (London)
After traveling around Europe with Tommy, I landed in London with hardly a dollar to my name, so I knew I needed find work quick smart. I walked into Marco Pierre White’s Café Royal Grill Room and asked Marco—then Britain’s most celebrated chef—for a job. His cookbook White Heat was the first cookbook I’d ever read. I was so inspired by the imagery and attention to detail, and felt pretty lucky to be working with the man I saw as the absolute pinnacle of the profession. I worked my way up through the ranks at Marco’s restaurants and eventually landed a gig as head chef at the highly-revered Quo Vadis.
It was while I was at Quo Vadis that a publisher first approached me to say they were creating a book about London’s finest chefs—and to my amazement they wanted to include me in it. I sent in my carpaccio recipe for the book, London on a Plate—it was based on the original method from Harry’s Bar in Venice. Carpaccio can be made in a hundred different ways, but I think the original is the best. (Photo: simplybeefandlamb.co.uk)
Onion bhaji on Brick Lane (London)
When I was living in London, we’d religiously go down to Brick Lane every Sunday to have a curry. There are so many restaurants down there and a real variety of cuisines to choose from, from Northern Indian to Bangladeshi to Pakistani. Those flavors have always stayed with me. On our last menu at Maude, we did a snack of onion bhaji because I remember those from my days in London and always thought they were so delicious. I thought they’d make a beautiful, simple, spicy little amuse bouche—those flavors sort of wake up the senses and get you ready to eat. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
White truffles totally move you. I have an instinctive attraction to them. From the very first time I smelled them, I was like, “Oh my god, what do we have here?” I was working in one of Marco’s restaurants and I can remember the truffle man coming in, opening the box, and that was it. Game over. I was completely drawn in. (Photo: Liz Barclay)
I grew up around the ocean in Australia and I love fresh seafood—I’m a big fan of scallops in particular. I love them raw, I love them cooked…anything with a scallop is okay with me. The UK actually gets some of the tastiest scallops in the world and one of my best jobs working for Marco was to open the scallop shells each morning to expose that perfect circular disc of pinky-white flesh. Just beautiful.
Maude’s March menu includes a scallop crudo dish with caviar, fennel, and nasturtium flowers. This particular preparation has tahini, which has a really interesting earthy flavour, and I’ve made the sauce super frothy with mineral water, soy milk, cream, caviar, preserved lemon, and some lemon juice. The taste of these guys takes me right back to great times spent at the beach in Oz. (Photo: thedeliciouslife.com)
Ahi tuna fish tacos at Paia Fish Market (Maui, Hawaii)
After around eight intense and glorious years working hard in some of London’s best kitchens, I headed to the States to pursue opportunities here. My very first job was hosting a show on TLC called Take Home Chef, where I’d basically walk up to women in the grocery store and ask to go home with them to help teach them how to cook a delicious meal. My dad thought I was mad when I first told him the concept.
In between seasons, I headed to Hawaii with my best mate and sometimes boss, Jodie Gatt, to escape the city rat race, chill out for a bit by the water, and get back on my neglected surfboard. When we were there, we stumbled across a great little place, Paia Fish Market, buzzing with people with a line right out the door (always a good sign). I absolutely fell in love with their famous ahi tuna fish tacos and have been cooking and eating a whole range of tacos ever since. Tacos have become my go-to comfort food. I love my late-night trips to a hole in the wall taco stand in East L.A. I eat them really, really hot—the hotter, the better. (Photo: Yelp)
Mole at Guelegetza (Los Angeles)
There’s so much ethnic diversity in L.A. when it comes to food—there’s a great little Thai Town area, and, of course, the Latin American presence is huge. My wife’s mom is Korean so we eat a lot that cuisine, and regularly go to Korean markets and restaurants. We also love this beautiful Mexican restaurant that’s right in the middle of Koreatown. It’s actually my favorite Mexican restaurant in L.A. The moles are probably the best thing to order, but they also do these amazing things called tlayudas, which are basically huge tortillas that are spread with refried beans and all sorts of other toppings. The tamales, the chipotle, the chiles rellenos…it’s hard to go wrong. (Photo: LA Weekly)
Duck Duck Goose Raviolo at Maude
I’ve recently opened my dream restaurant, Maude, in Beverly Hills, with a market-driven, prix-fixe menu that changes monthly with the seasons. One of my chefs, Brandon Difiglio, and I developed the Duck Duck Goose raviolo dish together for Maude’s very first menu, and it has become somewhat of a signature dish.
I think the relationship you have with the people you work with and how you can develop dishes together and push each other that bit further is really interesting. Brandon and I worked really closely on this dish and bounced ideas off each other, then tested and retested it until we came up with the perfect combination of duck egg, smoked goose fat, and, of course, freshly made ravioli. Ravioli will feature on just about every month’s menu with different fillings and sauces. It all depends on what Mother Nature is offering. (Photo: Ray Kachatorian)