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Haute Meets Homespun

Curtis Stone’s Los Angeles restaurants give classic tastes a modern update, thanks to inspired sous vide cooking.


BY APRIL FULTON || PHOTOS BY MISHA GRAVENOR

With his spiky blond hair, Aussie swagger, and rugged physique, Curtis Stone looks like a surfer straight out of central casting—and that’s undoubtedly part of his appeal.

But Stone’s no show pony. In fact, he contains multitudes. Underneath the Hollywood-ready exterior, he’s a serious chef. And he’s an ambitious restaurateur, a best-selling cookbook author, and yes, he’s a TV host and savvy cookware entrepreneur who markets his products on HSN. At 42, he has mastered that magic formula of commercial success and critical acclaim—and he looks like he’s having fun doing it.

Nearly 15 years ago, Stone began the celebrity part of his cooking career with Surfing the Menu, an Australian TV show he starred in with friend and fellow chef Ben O’Donoghue. The pair teamed up each week to surf and cook a fresh meal afterwards, many times doing both outdoors.

That caught the attention of American producers, and Stone went on to star in a series called Take Home Chef on TLC. On the show, Stone picks up unsuspecting customers in a grocery store and goes home with them to help them prepare a memorable meal. This led to gigs on NBC’s America’s Next Great Restaurant and Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.

Stone’s food education began at the age of 4 at the side of his grandmother, who was the inspiration behind his critically acclaimed Beverly Hills restaurant, Maude, which opened in 2014. She taught him to make fudge.

“I love food. I am the greediest person you’ll ever meet,” says Stone, easing his athletic frame into a cozy green corner booth for a chat with Sous-Vide magazine at Gwen, his more recently opened restaurant, also named for a beloved grandmother. He readily admits to being obsessed with making food, too. “If you don’t get out of bed in the morning excited to get to work, then you’re doing the wrong thing,” he says. Stone explains his hard-charging style with an Australian sports analogy. “I have White Line Fever,” says the former footballer and boxer. “I act like a gentleman before a game, beat up the rival team on the field, and then take them out for a beer afterwards.”

That attitude may be why Stone volunteered to train in the kitchen of Marco Pierre White, the top-tier London chef known for his temper (and his three Michelin stars), early in his career.” I came across Marco Pierre White’s first cookbook, which sort of portrays him as a psycho. And you read it and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I want to get on this team.’ Like, how do I go over there? So I did. I went over and worked for him and spent eight years in his kitchens,” he says. And that’s where Stone discovered sous vide.

“We would make a duck galantine. We’d open a duck, remove all the flesh, put it onto a frozen cutting board to keep that fat firm, make a forcemeat out of the legs, make foie gras sausage, sew the duck back up,” Stone recalls of his sous vide experiences with his mentor. Then they would roll it, tie it, and cook it in a water bath at 176°F (80°C) for 80 minutes, stirring from time to time. It was that simple.

Twenty years later, “the technology’s caught up to the technique,” Stone says. Sous vide cooking is a big part of Gwen, which combines a high-end butcher shop with a tasting menu experience in a highly stylized restaurant on LA’s Sunset Boulevard.

“It’s an old way of thinking mixed with a really new way of thinking,” Stone says of sous vide. The kitchen relies on old-fashioned wood cooking “plus a full induction line and sous vide tanks everywhere.”

“[SOUS VIDE IS] FOOLPROOF. WHEN YOU’RE COOKING ON THE GRILL, ALL YOU HAVE IS YOUR INTUITION. SOUS VIDE IS THE OPPOSITE OF THAT. SOUS VIDE IS THE IDEAL, PRECISE FORMULA.”

That precision is why Stone leans towards cooking turkey breasts sous vide for the holidays, rather than fussing with a whole turkey. “A breast is very consistent in terms of its size; you get a very even cook on it,” Stone says. To him, sous vide is neither a trend nor a fad. Stone believes it’s the way we’ll all be cooking in the future—so much so that he’s creating products to support that vision. To make sous vide simpler for the home cook, he introduced the Curtis Stone Precise Sous Vide Stick in 2017 on HSN.

At Maude, the petite sticks come in handy. “It’s a very involved menu, and we don’t have a lot of space,” says executive chef Justin Hilbert, whom Stone tapped to take the helm at the restaurant last year when he turned to focus on opening Gwen.

Hilbert, a veteran of kitchens like wd~50 in New York, likes sous vide for its predictability, but also because it saves precious kitchen resources. “When you braise, you need a lot of stock. For sous vide, just a little,” he says.

Hilbert and Stone try to get to the test kitchen above Gwen every day to develop new dishes based on seasonality. The concept at Maude is to take a seasonal ingredient—say, lime—and focus on it, Stone explains. Explore the roots, the stems, the flowers, the countries where it’s grown, and develop a monthly menu exploring that ingredient. White truffles, strawberries, walnuts, and persimmons have all been featured this year.

When you come up with an idea, “Nine times out of 10, it doesn’t work, but that’s the fun for us… seeing how far you can push that ingredient,” Stone says.

Stone’s inspiration comes not only from ingredients that challenge him to innovate, but from chefs who have excelled in their field, such as José Andrés and Ferran Adrià, he says. He also admires the work of David Thompson, an Australian chef known for his mastery of Thai cuisine (“You could talk to him about jasmine rice for seven hours,” Stone says) and Dominique Crenn, a Michelin-starred French chef who marries gastronomical precision with whimsical plating at Atelier Crenn in  San Francisco.

Stone also finds ideas while tending to his garden at home in Los Angeles, where he spends time with his wife, actress Lindsay Price, and their two young sons, Hudson and Emerson.

A typical day for him includes waking up around 6:30 a.m., jumping into the pool, and then raiding the rows, shrubs, and trees with his boys to find something for breakfast—the one big meal they enjoy together, since Stone is usually at Gwen until late at night.

In the summer, breakfast might include cherries, figs, or apricots. In the fall and winter, it’s parsnips and beets. They make juice, eggs, bacon, and sometimes pig’s head terrine and duck confit, too. “It’s bloody messy, but it’s good fun,” Stone says. And it seems he wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

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