If you watch any amount of food television, there's a good chance you've heard of Curtis Stone. From Take Home Chef to The Biggest Loser, there's nowhere this attractive Aussie hasn't been. Currently, he's busy being host of Top Chef Masters and a judge on America's Next Great Restaurant. We took time to get to know the chef, who's busy as the new face of Great Grains.
Over the phone, Stone — who revealed he's opening a new restaurant in Los Angeles, and talked about the highs and lows of filming — was surprisingly grounded and impressively well-spoken. He also addressed naysayers' criticisms that he spends too much time on TV and not enough in the kitchen. Curious to see what he's got to say? Read more.
YumSugar: What was your favorite Top Chef Masters moment of filming?
Curtis Stone: There was one moment when we get down to the final three chefs, and we announce who they are. To look at the expression on all three of their faces. It just felt so good. Not only was this one of the toughest cooking competitions in the world, but they'd made it through the end. That was pretty special.
YS: How did playing the judge role affect your relationships with the competitors?
CS: When we first started talking about the show, I said that I prefer not to judge my peers. I have to give my opinion like anybody, but the critics have the sole responsibility of deciding who goes through and who doesn't, and if anything . . . sometimes when the critics would talk poorly of the dishes, I tried to defend why and explain it from the chef's perspective. I was the voice of the chef at the critic's table. I've tried to keep in touch with nearly all the chefs since the season wrapped and eaten at all of their restaurants whenever I've been in their cities.
YS: Judging wannabe restaurateurs compared to established chefs — do you evaluate them in the same way?
CS: Not really. [In America's Next Great Restaurant], some of what seems like frustration on the screen is actually a sort of nurturing that went on between all four of the investors and the contestants. We all really started to care for not only the contestants, but also the concepts. You know, you see somebody who you're hoping for the best for making a mistake; it breaks your heart, because you're like, "Noo! Why did you do that? You were so close, and now I'm going to have to try to defend it to keep you in the competition!" Sometimes we'd get frustrated with them, but the contestants worked really, really hard. To me, the attitude is much more important than the aptitude.
YS: Before you were host of Masters, did you ever consider being on the show yourself?
CS: They asked me to compete in the first season, actually. I was back in Australia and couldn't make the time commitment, otherwise I would've done it. As a chef, we all have big egos, and we all think we'd do fantastically well on that kind of thing.
YS: Speaking of restaurants, do you have any plans to open one in America?
CS: I'm going to open a restaurant later this year in LA. I haven't chosen a name or decided on a location, but I"m coming back to town tonight to keep looking at spaces. I'm hoping to have something open later this year. I want a nice little place, where you can still cook for people the way you want to — have a lot of flexibility. I want it to be relaxed and special; I think 40 or 50 seats would see me out.
YS: You're being called the face of a new generation of chefs. What do you say to critics who say you can't be the representative because you're not cooking in a restaurant kitchen? Sorry, had to ask.
CS: Don't be silly; I think it's funny! When you're working in a restaurant, you have to deal with serving people dinner every day, so your creativity's stifled. You become really good at the art of perfection, but you're not developing dishes day after day. I've done a great mix. I've worked in great Michelin-starred restaurants, and then cooked for people who have weight problems, and developed recipes with Internet service providers and cereal companies. I'm probably developing 400 to 500 recipes a year at the moment, which is of course a lot more than I'd be doing if I were working in a restaurant. But I totally understand why the person's saying that: I think there's some validity in saying, if you're going to say you're a chef, you need to cook somewhere, which is why I'm opening a restaurant. I miss cooking in a restaurant, and that camaraderie, and that art of perfection that I was talking about.
YS: Let's say you're gone from this planet tomorrow. What would you want to be remembered for?
CS: [Laughs.] Oooh, that's interesting! A few things spring to mind that I shouldn't say out loud. Food touches so many parts of our lives. Chefs get too excited about themselves, and we like to think we're more important than we are, when all we really do is cook other people dinner. If I can attract people back to a dinner table, then that makes me really happy.