We turn the tables on the Take Home Chef as he takes us into his home and into his heart.
“Anything you eat with your hands is kind of sexy,” says Curtis Stone, the hunky, 6-foot-4 Australian celebrity chef. He was lounging in his backyard on a recent sunny day, his bright blue eyes perfectly matching his cashmere sweater and the sparkling swimming pool. “Things you eat slowly can be quite provocative.
The night before, Stone had cooked a particularly arousing meal of Dungeness crabs and smoked trout for a few friends at his bachelor pad of a Hollywood Hills home complete with decorative Buddhas, a Jacuzzi and a disco ball in the fully loaded kitchen.
Sex appeal has a lot to do with Stone’s style of cooking. The shtick of his television show, Take Home Chef (on TLC), is that he ambushes women in the grocery store and offers to make them a meal — but only if they agree to take him to their home. There’s not much of a challenge there. Who would say no to a delicious meal, a handsome chef? I doubt too many women refuse this. Why would they? What woman wouldn’t want to take him back to her place?
The combination of Stone’s surfer good looks, his well-honed cooking skills and amiable attitude makes him irresistible. Having earned his chops at acclaimed London restaurant Quo Vadis and broken into Hollywood with a hit TV show, Stone seems poised to emerge as the next big international celebrity chef. He even has a rapidly expanding Williams-Sonoma product line, a catering business and three cookbooks, the latest: Relaxed Cooking With Curtis Stone.
“Curtis is definitely one of the most dynamic TV chefs out there,” says Brendan Collins, executive chef at The Hall, inside the stylish West Hollywood Palihouse hotel. The two worked together at Quo Vadis and have remained close friends.
“A lot of the chefs are about image and not food,” says Collins. “Curtis has a real passion for food, and he’s been fortunate enough to travel the world and see different cultures to get a broader spectrum of what food is about. His cuisine is unique to him, a multicultural mix of everything.
Stone believes in a laid-back, eclectic style of cooking. In his latest book, recipes for healthy salads, savory dishes and sweet treats are slotted in chapters with accessible titles like “Brunch That Will Blow Their Minds” and “Something to Eat on the Sofa.” Stone poses in the photographs wearing a zip-up sweatshirt, a dishtowel over his shoulder, stubble on his face, spiky hair and a big smile. He seems to be saying, You can try this at home!
The recipes are simple but innovative, like Brazilian-Style Chicken with Okra, or Toasted Walnut Sourdough With Melted Gorgonzola and Cranberry-Fig Preserve. Some are downright basic, like Spicy Sausage Breakfast Burritos, which Stone was inspired to make after seeing all the surfers in Malibu line up for them after a morning on the waves.
Stone prefers to put his energy into finding the best produce and having fun at a dinner party instead of stressing out perfecting a complicated dish. His first piece of advice is to start out buying local, seasonal produce. “If you live in California, there’s no excuse not to go to the farmers’ market,” says Stone. “It’s twice as good, and you support a local farmer instead of a big corporation.”
Indeed, Stone doesn’t believe in processed food and soda. “Everything in moderation, and eat a good variety of stuff,” he says. Exercise is part of his program too. Stone runs most every morning, up the hill near his house, and surfs in Malibu when he has time to drive out to the beach, a welcome option since he moved to Los Angeles from London several years ago.
Stone’s theories on nutrition revolve around his basic principle that food should be a pleasure and a priority. “You could feed your family something out of a box in front of the TV,” he says, “or cook something so they smell it when they walk in the door. They know you went through some effort for them.” But he says all the preparation shouldn’t fall on the chef. Stone believes in putting guests or family to work, with tasks like opening the wine. “They contribute by setting the table, providing some great conversation, trying to solve each other’s problems. By the end of it, you all help clean up. There are amazing family values that come out of serving dinner. People say, ‘I don’t have time to cook.’ Well I say, what do you have time for? Watching television?”
Of course, it’s a lot easier to whip up a meal in Stone’s kitchen than your own. His is perfectly stocked because he often shoots cooking segments there for his AOL Food show, Cooking With Curtis Stone. He’s got everything — from pasta flour, coconut milk and good dark chocolate in his cupboard to shrimp and avocados in the fridge and a healthy collection of Shiraz in the living room.
His bookshelf features tomes by all the masters, like Joël Robuchon, Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsay. Plus, his eponymous line of practical products reflects both his culinary expertise and his creativity — like a carving board made from eco-sustainable bamboo that’s cleverly angled so juices flow into a removable stainless steel container for use later as a sauce.
Whether Stone’s cooking live, on television or on the Internet, he has a charm that instantly connects with viewers. “Curtis has this huge sex appeal and aura,” says Mark Waxman, an executive producer of Take Home Chef. “He walks in a room and just lights it up. When we were shooting, these guys would come home, see Curtis in the kitchen with their wives and be totally jealous.
“More often than not, Curtis would be a foot taller and way better looking — and they would just freak out. They’d be like, ‘How dare you videotape my wife!’ It was funny, because even if there was this jealousy from the husbands, and even if women were wishing Curtis would do more than prepare dinner, for Curtis, he was just there to teach them to cook. He is totally focused on what he does.”
All the cooking and shooting doesn’t leave Stone a lot of time for a social life. He has little interest in the banquette-hopping scene, which has often been a trap for celebrity chefs, a group that has a reputation for randy behavior. “I think the most successful relationships don’t come from meeting someone in a nightclub,” says Stone, whose fans bring gifts of homemade cookies and chutney to his book signings.
Stone’s not in any rush to settle down. “I’m not single for any particular reason,” Stone says. “I have a great bunch of friends, and I feel supported in my lifestyle as a single person.” He also travels a lot for work, which makes dating hard, especially with women who have desk jobs, as was the case with his ex, who worked in sales for Staples Center. “I’m not that into my independence,” Stone says. “I love spending time with people, but I’m in a phase of my life that doesn’t allow me to have time for it.”
Stone loves cooking when he is free from the pressure of running a restaurant and facing the chorus of critics, who are particularly powerful and opinionated in the food world. “A problem with this business is that you’re often judged by someone who doesn’t even know how to cook,” he says.
He learned his craft from famed chef Marco Pierre White — but it wasn’t easy. “He works harder than anyone I’ve ever met,” says Stone of White, who had a short run with the U.S. TV show The Chopping Block on NBC last spring. White taught Stone to pay close attention to quality. One day at Quo Vadis, Stone poached a regular egg instead of an organic one for White’s breakfast. “Marco cut into the egg — he didn’t even taste it — and sent it back,” says Stone. “That attention to detail comes from a pure passion, an absolute love for what you do.”
Stone first became interested in cooking when his grandmother gave him a piece of homemade chocolate fudge when he was 4 years old. At 18, he started cooking at the Savoy Hotel in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Then he traveled to Italy, Spain and France to study local cuisines before landing in London, where he literally knocked on White’s door. That afternoon, Stone got a job at White’s restaurant, The Grill Room at Café Royal.
Next he went to White’s restaurant Mirabelle, as sous chef, and worked on the Mirabelle Cookbook. He was quickly promoted to head chef at Quo Vadis, a London institution since 1926. During Stone’s four-year stint there, he was featured in a book about London’s finest chefs, London on a Plate, which truly launched his career.
When Stone is cooking for his friends, he likes to be impulsive. “I look to the raw ingredients for inspiration,” says Stone. “I go to the market and walk up to the fish counter and go, ‘Look at that snapper! That would be nice. Should I fry it or steam it?’ And then I see what Asian ingredients they have … OK, lemongrass, ginger … and I’m like, ‘Beautiful! I’m going to steam this.’”
Just talking about a theoretical shopping trip gets Stone excited to cook. It’s as if he’s going to jump up and make dinner at that very moment. “I started my journey as a cook because I loved food,” says Stone. “It gives me everything I’ve got.
“I think I have a great job,” he says, laughing. But it wasn’t always easy for him to charm strangers in grocery stores, especially when he first started shooting the show. “I’m a fairly shy person,” says Stone. “I found it a bit tough to have to walk up to a complete stranger every single day, in a brand-new country where I had no idea about the culture.”
What a difference a year makes.
Curtis Stone’s recipe for Homemade Waffles with Caramelized Apples and Vanilla Ice Cream
Serves 4 to 6
To caramelize the apples:
3/4 cup/168 g sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/2 cup (1 stick)/113 g unsalted butter
6 Pink Lady apples (about 2 1/2 pounds/1.1 kg), cored and each cut into eight 1-inch-wide wedges
1/2 cup/65 g raisins
1/4 cup/55 g heavy whipping cream
For the waffles:
1 1/2 cups/245 g all purpose flour
3 tablespoons/42 g sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons/about 5 g baking powder
3/4 teaspoon/about 3 g baking soda
3/4 teaspoon/about 4 g salt
1 1/2 cups/360 ml whole milk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons (1/4 stick)/40 g melted unsalted butter
Nonstick cooking spray
1 1/2 pints/710 ml vanilla ice cream
To caramelize the apples and raisins:
Place a large heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add the sugar. Using a small sharp knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the sugar and add the bean. Cook for 2 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the butter. Add the apples and toss to coat.
Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the apples begin to soften and release their juice Stir in the raisins. Continue to cook, gently tossing the apples occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the apples are tender but still hold their shape and the caramel sauce forms. Stir in the cream.
To make the waffles:
Meanwhile, preheat the Belgian waffle iron. Preheat the oven to 200¡F/93¡C. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. In a separated bowl, whisk the milk, egg and melted butter to blend. Add the milk mixture into the dry ingredients, whisking constantly to avoid lumps.
Ladle about 1/2 cup/105 ml of the waffle batter onto each of the two 4 1/2-inch-/11-cm-square grids or about 3/4 cup/155 ml over a 7-inch-/18-cm-diameter grid on the waffle iron. Cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on your iron (most new irons have a timer), or until the waffle is golden and crisp on the outside and cooked through. Transfer the waffles to the oven tray and keep them warm in the oven, while cooking the remaining waffles.
Cut the square waffles diagonally in half or cut the round waffles into 4 wedges. Place two hot waffles triangles or wedges on each plate. Spoon the caramelized apple mixture over the waffles. Scoop the ice cream atop and serve immediately.