Most celebrity chefs start by making their names as chefs, then branch out into the realm TV stars. Not Curtis Stone. While he spent time earlier in his career in some truly impressive kitchens, he really became a household name after getting some quality time on-camera with shows like TLC's Take Home Chef, Today on NBC, and Bravo's chef superstar spin-off Top Chef Masters. Now that he's at the top of the TV chef mountain, he's decided to open his very first “tiny little restaurant” and guess what? It's really, really good.
Maude is named after Stone's grandmother and serves one set menu to 25 guests at a time. Each month, the menu focuses on a single ingredient as a theme and every dish incorporates that theme. There are nine official courses, but the first course is really five mini-courses, so you're definitely not leaving hungry. Here, Stone meets me before dinner and gives me the scoop on Maude and spills on whether he's ever actually been to Outback Steakhouse.
This is your first restaurant in the U.S. Tell me how it came to be and what you're trying to do.
I think every chef dreams of a tiny little restaurant one day. I know I had. I started working in restaurants this size, maybe a little larger, and I guess I'd always wanted to get back to it. Your life takes you on a lot of different turns — my life sure took me on some. But I got to the point where I was ready to do it, get back behind the stove before I got too old. It's a young man's game, as you can see (points to the kitchen). So I wanted to have a crack at cooking back at that level that I used to.
What was that decision like for you? What was the tipping point?
At some point, you sort of reflect on everything you've achieved in your career – or haven't achieved in your career – and I was sitting with my boy, looking at him and thinking about what's in front of him and what kind of life he'd have. Then I started thinking about my own life and I thought, as a parent, I put my mom through a lot. I said to her at the age of 21 that I was going to Europe to work in a three Michelin-star restaurant and I'd be back in a couple of years, and I never went home. I went from Europe to America, and here I am. So I started reflecting on that started thinking about what conversations I'll have with him when I'm an older man, saying this is what I did, this is what I achieved, or this is what I could have done. And there was that part of me that was still missing achieving something special out of a tiny little restaurant.
What are you doing here at Maude?
It's a tiny little restaurant, we don't have a menu. Well, we have a menu that we don't share with anyone until they come in. It's a dozen courses or so, depending on how you count them, that all revolve around one ingredient. So, in February it's citrus. Every single dish that we serve has citrus through it somewhere. Sometimes it's the center of the plate, sometimes it's like a little addition to set the meal off. The idea is that as a kitchen, we challenge our creativity and see how far can you go with citrus. What can you do? How many different ways can you show it? I guess from the diner's perspective, it's to take them on a bit of a journey through the season and say, all right, well there's spiny lobsters in season right now; there's incredible carrots and root vegetables that are still in season right now. So you sort of go through and say “What's the best of the season and how does that make sense with our chosen ingredient?” So for now it's citrus. In March, we're going to do artichokes.
Have you ever cooked like this before?
I haven't, no.
Have you seen it anywhere?
No. I haven't. I've seen a tasting menu option or 'tasting menus only.' But to structure around one ingredient? I haven't seen that. I guess it came from being here in California, going to the markets all the time, dealing with the farmers a lot, going to their farms and seeing how beautiful one ingredient is at a certain time of year.
Would you recycle? Say Maude makes it 12 years. Are we going to see another February citrus menu?
I hope Maude doesn't make it 12 years. I'll jump off a bridge if I'm still here in 12 years.
Really? What's your estimated lifespan for Maude?
Oh, who knows? I don't know. I don't want to think that far down the road.
But 12 is way too much?
Twelve is a lot. I'm exaggerating, but 12 is a lot. For me to be behind the stove 16 hours a day, I think it's too much. But, at the moment, it's a hardcore little kitchen. There are great guys working their asses off who are all here at eight, none o'clock in the morning. We work until one o'clock in the morning every day. I'm really enjoying it, as are the rest of the guys. We feed off of each other. I come in with my ideas and set the dishes and everyone learns them and contributes to them. For right now, it's a great little restaurant, but I don't know if you keep a little restaurant like that going for 12 years. Maybe 10. (laughs)
In terms of technique and style, where do you think your food falls?
I grew up with French cuisine. If I had to pick a style or a cuisine, it would be French. I'm an Aussie, I've lived in America, I lived in London, I worked for French chefs, so it's a little bit of all of that stuff. We have an onion bhaji on the menu. To have an Indian snack is really different in this kind of environment. We haven't got strict barriers around it that say “If it's Chinese, we can't do it.” If it's amazing, we will do it.
Have you ever been to Outback Steakhouse?
Are you familiar with it?
I'm really not. I mean, I've heard the controversy around the Bloomin' Onion – how many calories it has. I've heard bits and pieces about Outback Steakhouse but I've never stepped foot in there. Not for any particular reason. I've seen their ads on television. That's all I know about them.
More Kessler Report on Food Republic: