In an era of celebrity chefs, Curtis Stone might be the archetype. The Australian-born, London-trained host of Top Chef Masters—the new season debuts tonight!—has arguably spent more of his career in front of cameras than behind burners; the list of products, tools, cookbooks and consultancies attached to his name is a lengthy resume in itself. That’s about to change by year’s end, when Stone finally opens his own place in his adopted home town of Los Angeles (well, Beverly Hills, to be exact). As a warm-up, Stone is cooking and hosting two “Up Close & Personal Weekend” dinners at the Venetian and Palazzo as part of the summer Carnevale series of events. We figured we’d see how up close and personal we could get.
When you came up as a chef, did you have any designs on having as public a career as you’ve had? Does the limelight come naturally? No, absolutely not. The first thing I did in the press, somebody did a book called London on a Plate, and I was honored to be a part of it. Then they asked me to do a bit of press around the book, and some morning TV, and I was cringing. Before you know it, I had an offer for my own TV show.
Now that Gordon Ramsay is in Vegas frequently, we know he isn’t really as awful as he appears on TV. Is your mentor Marco Pierre White’s fearsome reputation also a bit of an act? No, there’s no acting with Marco. He’s an eccentric sort of a dude, sort of intense about everything, not just food. But genius in the kitchen. I still think some of the most beautiful plates I’ve been able to serve were his, and that was 10 to 15 years ago.
You’ve had experience with many different approaches to food TV. What’s been your observation on how that’s influenced food culture? Good, bad, or just entertainment? I think it’s a bit of everything. It’s shone a big spotlight on an industry that’s been suffering for a long time. It wasn’t that long ago when it wasn’t that cool to be a chef, wearing all those silly hats. A lot of the skill was leaving the industry. And then the celebrity chef was born and everybody had renewed interest. Now of course, the negative part is that a lot are joining the industry to be the next celebrity chef. So the drop-off rate has been a lot higher. It’s still a bloody tough industry. The shows on now, some are a little bit silly, and some are good, and it’s up to the viewer whether they find it entertaining or not.
You and your new wife, actress Lindsay Price, live in Los Angeles. How would you compare cooking there to Australia? I love the food here, and there. But they’re quite different. In Australia the roots are probably more in European cuisine. There’s also this incredible mixture of Asian cuisines filtered through Australia. The first thing I think of in American food is comfort food, pot pies, fried chicken, barbecue. But America is hard to talk about as a whole, because it's full of little cultures. In LA, there’s also a real understanding of Latin cuisine. The Mexican food is incredible.
What chefs do you feel most in common with philosophically? Which ones do you admire the most? So many chefs bring so many elements. I eat at Nancy Silverton’s place Mozza a lot, very simple philosophy. But José Andrés ... I ate at é [at Jaleo] last time in Vegas and it’s one of the best culinary experiences I’ve ever had in my life. He’s absolutely a genius. They are totally opposite.
Speaking of Vegas, have you spent a lot of time here? Vegas is actually the whole reason I live in the States. I lived in London and half my mates were still in Aussie, so for my 30th birthday, I booked one of the fancy hotels on the Strip, because it was halfway between the two places. And then someone called and asked me to shoot a pilot in LA, so I managed to get a free flight! I got together 30 friends, dressed in ridiculous outfits, went to the Grand Canyon. Absolute blast.
Your new book is called What’s For Dinner. I’m guessing there aren’t any waffle recipes. No, no waffle recipe. I work for a supermarket in Australia and write 100 recipes for them, and I sit in on their focus groups and find out what people are looking for when it comes to getting dinner on the table. And I’m also a new dad, so I think about someone who gets home at 6:30 at night and has to get in bath, storytime, and one battle or another. I tried to come up with solutions to the problems we all face, so there’s Motivated Mondays, Time-saving Tuesdays, One Pot Wednesdays, Thrifty Thursdays, Five Ingredient Fridays, Dinner Party Saturdays and Family Meal Sundays.
So what can we expect from the weekend at Venetian's Carnevale? Are you going to wear a Carnevale costume? How up-close are we talking? Will there be hot tubbing? I always try and make the dinners as exciting and intimate as they can be, and I’ll be doing a lot of dishes from What’s For Dinner. Now that you’ve thrown it in my mind, I may have to find a costume. Hot tubbing might be pushing it, though. My wife is going to be there.
How does a man spending hours behind hot burners maintain such great hair? Christ, I have no idea, mate. I always get questions about my hair. I look at it and say "What a mess." My theory is go messy and it can never be wrong. But then I look at photos and … that’s not true!