Curtis Stone had seemingly done it all. He learned the art of cooking from his grandmother at age four, and by 18, had become a chef at London’s esteemed Savoy Hotel. He has cooked under Marco Pierre White, appeared in practically every reality-based TV show of note from the Iron Chef to Top Chef to Around the World in 8 Plates, penned a cookbook and personally prepared a beachside barbie for Oprah Winfrey. The only thing he hadn’t done is open his own restaurant – until now, that is. The Australian native opened his first eatery, Maude, on February 1 in honor of the woman who started it all: his granny. Stone, 38, sat down with Haute Living to discuss the intimate 25-seat Beverly Hills haute spot he refers to as his “dream little restaurant,” a concept eatery that focuses on a monthly set menu inspired by one seasonal ingredient that boasts a roster of chefs and staff cherry-picked from the best restaurants in the world. The man referred to as “The Quiet Terminator” is ready to take on LA.
What prompted you to choose Los Angeles as the location for your first restaurant over Manhattan or Melbourne?
I think it came down to timing for me. I live in LA, and have done for the last seven or eight years; I love LA. There is an incredible array of ingredients to get your hands on here on the West Coast, and I think that was the big motivating factor behind opening the restaurant in LA. We work directly with most of our farmers to bring ingredients to the center of the plate so that we can grow certain things.
Your restaurant is named after your grandmother, who taught you to make fudge. What else did she teach you to make? What life lessons did she teach you?
She taught me a lot of lifelong lessons. My granny was a sweet, sweet lady. She taught me simple things, like how to play cards, and she was one of the first people to get me on a tennis court. She was also quite a spiritual lady and had a real sense of what’s right and what’s wrong and how to conduct herself. One of her strongest lessons was how important food is in a family. Whenever we went to her place it would usually revolve around food in some way, shape, or form.
Is it easier or harder for you to create a meal around one single ingredient?
It certainly gets you focused. It does make life a little less complicated if you start with every ingredient under the sun. Of course, it’s much more challenging to think how can I use rhubarb 15 times throughout the course of a tasting menu, but I thought, let’s challenge ourselves.
Are there already plans to open other restaurants? If so, where? Will they be the same concept as Maude?
Who knows? I enjoyed doing this tiny little restaurant that has a focus. You can’t do that in a huge restaurant like you can in a small restaurant. My heart has always been in tiny little restaurants, and it’s a bit of a chef’s dream to open a 25-seater. There’s not a huge upside in terms of financials, but I love doing it. Who knows what the future holds? I have no big undulating plans to take over the world’s restaurant business. For me, one is more than enough.
Do you think “The Quiet Terminator” is an appropriate nickname for you? Why or why not?
People that know me say I’m a pretty loud individual; I’m pretty straight down the line. Everything I do, I do it for a reason. I love it. That’s the only way you excel at stuff. I love food, I love eating and I love creating.
Why do you believe Los Angeles is becoming such a food Mecca?
I think [fresh ingredients] is part of it. LA is a little late to the party. We speak about LA being an incredible gastronomic city, but LA is actually a little slow to develop this love of food. We should have been that way – we’re the second largest city in the United States. For many years, LA has been built on the entertainment business, where cool restaurants were just that – cool – as opposed to having incredible food. There’s a change in the city for sure. People are starting to pay attention to the gastronomic side of restaurants and show an appreciation for wine. LA on the whole is becoming a more cultured city, so I think it’s a change for the best.
Why did you decide to import your staff from outside of LA?
I’ve worked everywhere but in LA restaurants. When you go through a change like this in a city, some of the power does need to come from somewhere else, or it never gets richer. I didn’t do it on purpose. I was trying to find more local people and have a better understanding of the city, people who could help me where I was weak. That’s what makes Los Angeles such a rich and transient city.
What are the elements of Australia that you would most like to introduce to Los Angeles?
Australia has a real diversity in its dining scene. LA does as well, mostly in its Korean and Mexican cuisine; Latin culture is so strong here. Our Mexico [in Australia] is Southeast Asia, because it’s on our doorstep; we take our vacations in Thailand and Malaysia. The talent pool in chefs that have come from those countries is amazing.
You’ve appeared on many a food-focused TV show. Are there any plans in the pipeline for 2014/2015? What, if so?
Not for right now. I’m pretty busy with everything that I’ve got going on. I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I’m doing a little bit of work with The Chew, a daytime talk show on ABC; I stop in when I’m in New York
What has been your favorite TV show experience to date and why?
The first show I ever did was Surfing the Menu, a tiny little show out of Australia. Myself and another guy, Ben O’Donoghue, traveled around the country cooking and surfing. It was one of the things that really shaped me as a chef.
Are there any plans for you to pen a new cookbook? If so, what will the premise be and how will it differ from “What’s For Dinner?” Will you ever put together a book of your grandmother’s favorite recipes?
That’s something that I’d love to do. We’re developing so many recipes all the time in the restaurant, and the ones that work really well we’re going to [put in a book]. The last publishing deal I did was a two-book deal with Ballantine, so we’re in the throes of writing.
Have you ever been flown to an exotic location to cook one single meal for a billionaire? If so, for whom, and what did you prepare?
We get all sorts of requests from different corporations, and I’ve cooked all over the world. I cooked for Oprah [Winfrey] on a beach in the Whitsundays. We prepared a big Aussie barbeque – grilled meats and lobsters and crabs – on Whitehaven Island. I had a bunch of male models in Speedos holding lobsters and crabs to greet her. She laughed, as any woman would.
What do you consider to be the greatest luxury in life?
Friendship. Family should fit into that category, as well. Nothing is better than having people that you can rely on. Loyalty, trust and incredible conversations – money can’t buy any of that stuff.