It was in business school that Curtis Stone decided to change tracks, don an apron, and become a chef. After starting at The Savoy Hotel in Melbourne, Australia, Stone moved on to train with Marco Pierre White in London at the iconic Cafe Royal, Mirabelle and Quo Vadis. It was only a matter of time before he became host of hit international food show, Surfing the Menu in Australia, which immediately drew the attention of U.S. producers, sparking his career in food television. Stone soon became a household name. With a product line at William Sonoma and a number of hit food shows under his belt, his presence in the industry continues to grow at an astounding rate. Even when interviewing Stone, one can see why his charms even work on the chefs he’s forced to send home on Top Chef Masters. Speaking of Top Chef, Stone will now be gracing the scene of Bravo’s next hit food show, Around the World In 80 Plates. And with culinary destinations like Florence, Morocco and Thailand, who can resist watching? For us, Stone’s the attraction; whether it’s his philosophy on seasonability and sustainability or simply the fact that he was holding his son, Hudson, throughout this entire interview, this is one foodie The New Potato is finding hard to resist.
TNP: What would be your ideal food day?
I actually love to cook breakfast so I have a beautiful vegetable garden, where I get all my vegetables, and I’d probably do a frittata with asparagus, spring peas — and then coffee. The only thing in the world I’m a snob about is great coffee. Some double smoked bacon and freshly squeezed orange juice from my citrus tree in the backyard. Mid-morning maybe I’d take a small stroll around the farmer’s market. And then I love a lingering lunch. You know, a long long lunch. There’s nothing better. Maybe I’d go to a pizzeria at 3 or 4 in the afternoon have some wine, take a little time after to digest. Dinner well, hmm. You know if you started this in New York and ended in LA you could have two dinners, same with Las Vegas. One of my favorite chefs in the world, Jose Andres, has a restaurant called e by Jose Andres in Las Vegas and it’s actually just an eight seat restaurant with a bunch of different courses.
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TNP: Ok, so we’re ending the ultimate food day in Las Vegas?
Yes, let’s do that because the meal I had at e was amazing. I want to go again. I ate with Ruth Reichl and James Oseland for Top Chef Masters which was really wonderful. It was an incredible dinner and I just sat with great foodies and analyzed. I really love doing that. And like any good dinner, it started with a gin and tonic and ended with a gin and tonic. And since it’s an ultimate food day, I’d then go and gamble, drink a couple of beers, go back up to Blue Ribbon and have a couple of rolls to finish the day off.
TNP: Speaking of Top Chef Masters, you’ve been in food TV for quite some time, starting in Australia then coming to the US. Has it changed since you’ve started?
It’s changed substantially. When I started doing cooking shows, in the one I did (at the time) we travelled around. It was me eating and drinking with my buddies, but it was very informational, very educational and factual. We’d go see incredible organic producers; we’d talk, eat and drink. Now, it’s very competition-based, which has changed the industry (and who gets drawn into the food world) forever.
There’s sort of this false promise ‘Oh I’ll compete and win Top Chef.’ But the reality is there are millions of people in the industry and only a few spots on these shows. So one thing you do have is some people coming into the industry for the wrong reasons. At the same time, for a while it was tapering off a bit [who was coming into the industry] so all in all it’s definitely a good thing.
TNP: But do you think maybe there’s the double-edged sword where sometimes people are coming into the industry more often, but under false pretenses?
All in all food TV is a great thing. But the reality of being a cook is that a good cook has to peel a f*ck of a lot of carrots. There’s not really a shortcut. You don’t have to do it but you’ll never be a truly great chef if you don’t.
TNP: Is the food industry different in Australia where you’re from than here?
It’s not so different in Australia. I had an apprenticeship in Europe; I worked for Marco Pierre White. There, it is definitely different. It’s still that old culture of gastronomy, and the sommeliers are so knowledgeable — and they’re taken just as seriously as the culinary side of it. In the states it’s a much younger game, which is more how Australia is actually.
TNP: So Europe’s a bit more old world?
Yes, and there are good and bads. There’s a risk of getting a little old and stuffy. You could say maybe once in a while French cuisine is held back a bit because it’s so steeped in tradition. At the same time, there’s such beauty because things are done so properly. Here, when these students are coming out of culinary school and right away becoming sous-chefs, that’s just ridiculous. How can you be second in charge with no experience? You get the experience from being in a restaurant, not from just being in school.
TNP: Can you tell us a bit about your new show premiering May 9th, Around the World in 80 Plates?
It’s a culinary competition show that’s Top Chef and The Amazing Race combined, in a sense. We have these beautiful culinary destinations and the contestants have to complete a course, which is a race across town. So for example, we start in Bologna, and they have to find homemade parmesan. Then once they find the parmesan they have to go to a tortellini shop for tortellini. The race is all based around food. There are two teams and the winning team chooses the ingredient they cook with. And they have to all cook in a local restaurant. So, that could be a 5-star restaurant, a street stand in Morocco, or a trattoria in Bologna. They cook for the locals, who decide which team they like better. The losing team then actually self-eliminates, so it’s a totally different spin. The team sits down and decides who will go home. And the hosts, Cat [Cora] and I, we award one chef who did best that competition. So the host experience is really positive, because the last thing you want to do is destroy someone’s experience, which is kind of what you’re doing when you have to kick someone off a show. So it’s nice. We oversee the course and the race, and then the next day sit down with someone from that region to talk about the local cuisine. So London was Nigella Lawson; Barcelona was Jose Andres; Alvin Long was Hong Kong. Then we had a day or two to enjoy and explore the city.
TNP: Was the casting process for this any different than Top Chef? What types of things were you looking for in the competing chefs?
We definitely went for really good chefs. The qualities we went for maybe were a little different. There were chefs that came in from incredible pedigrees that didn’t necessarily fare as well as a chef that wasn’t from that, but could speak four languages etc. The qualities that helped and hurt you were a bit different for this show.
TNP: What’s special and different about the show?
Well I haven’t really seen a competitive cooking show on an international scale like this. We also have these beautiful culinary destinations: Florence, Bologna, Barcelona, Thailand, Morocco. These incredible culinary places where chefs are racing through the different cities — it’s just really great.
I stay really objective; obviously I have my own philosophy so if someone has the complete opposite I’ll take that into consideration. I do think certain rules you shouldn’t break. But I will always consider their philosophy.
TNP: Anyone you’d like to host a show with that you haven’t yet?
Anthony Bourdain. I love his attitude. He really seeks out the authentic stuff, which many don’t do — which I don’t like.
TNP: What’s so important and special about seasonability and local ingredients?
I just think we are surrounded by amazing ingredients. Overcomplicating it just doesn’t necessarily make it better. It’s really good to know the growing process — knowing asparagus and broccoli is great at the start of spring. If you understand that cooking just becomes simpler.
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TNP: Why do you think “local” “sustainability” and “seasonability” have become such a trend now?
It makes a lot of sense. Seasonability makes ingredients more available and cheaper. It supports local farmers and when you start living that style and going to markets, you end up with great flavors and ingredients. You go and you get fresh seasonable heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzaerella and put it together for an amazing salad. You didn’t actually cook anything. Everyone should think like this, and should care about the environment. We shouldn’t necessarily fly sh*t over from somewhere far away because we want asparagus in the winter time.
TNP: You mentioned you yourself have a vegetable garden and citrus trees. What are some of your go-to recipes when cooking at home?
It depends a lot on what’s in my vegetable garden. We cook light because we go out a lot. There should always be a balance. So we cook a lot of seafood. I have a beautiful wood fire so I use that. I’ll roast meats.
TNP: And what about your own kitchen product line? What’s different about it from others?
The way I do it is different. For most chefs it’s a brand asking them to endorse them, so it’s not that special. My brand is my own business. I built it from the ground up. Usually we start off with a problem in the kitchen and go from there in saying ‘how do we fix it?’ So for example, we developed a cutting board and there’s somewhere to put waste on one side with holes embedded in the back. And then in the front there are cups embedded in the chopping board where you can put the veggies you chop. So it’s really like a workbench preparation, waste and storage. So the line is different ways of solving problems in the kitchen.
TNP: And do these products also factor into helping the environment?
They do. You keep your peelings in one spot rather than putting them in the trash so you can compost them. We use sustainable wood in our products. We repackage.
TNP: What are some of your favorite restaurants to eat in New York and LA?
The last time I was in New York, I ate at The NoMad which was delicious. I love Thomas Keller’s Per Se. If you like Yakatori theres a place called Suto Yakatori on 55th, really authentic. In Los Angeles, Pinches Tacos on Sunset. For something fancy, Melisse on Wilshire Blvd.
TNP: And most importantly how do you feel about new potatoes?
I love them — are you kidding. Especially this time of year. You can peel them and boil them with parsley and butter with fish. Or you can keep the skin on and roast them. There’s also a dish called a Colcannon — it’s an Irish dish with milk, leeks, shallots and spring onions — you crush the potatoes with the milk and they’re deliciously creamy and buttery!
To view Curtis Stone’s Recipe for Minted Snow Peas and Asparagus, click here.