“I have always loved eating, and I’ve always loved the taste of food. The next step to that is figuring out how you can make it,” says Curtis Stone, the Michelin-starred chef and restaurateur known for Take Home Chef, Top Chef Masters, and Top Chef Junior. “I’m fascinated by cooking.”
The Melbourne, Australia, native stepped behind the line professionally at age 18. “I wasn’t really enjoying my apprenticeship,” he admits. “You get all the shitty jobs when you’re an apprentice; there’s not much creativity going on.” That’s when he read White Heat, a cookbook and autobiography by bad-boy British prodigy Marco Pierre White, who in 1994 (four years after releasing the book) became the world’s youngest chef to earn three Michelin stars.
• To See Curtis Stone at the upcoming Palm Desert Food & Wine, visit palmdesertfoodandwine.com for tickets.
“It’s interesting to think that you can write a book and literally, on the other side of the world, change someone’s life with it,” Stone muses. “He was just this really interesting, intense character who stopped at nothing but perfection. He broke all the rules. I was so taken with that book that I decided to pack my bags and head to the U.K. and go work for him … I got a working holiday Visa. I found somewhere to stay on my second day, and I walked in the back door of his restaurant and asked for a job.”
“Then put an apron on,” White told him.
After a decade in London (rising to become head chef at White’s restaurant Quo Vadis), Stone moved to Los Angeles to continue his trajectory.
In 2014, he opened his first restaurant, Maude; the wine-driven Beverly Hills tasting house was awarded a Michelin star in 2019. He and his brother, Luke, opened Gwen Butcher Shop & Restaurant in West Hollywood in 2016. Stone partnered with Princess Cruises that same year to open a six-course dining experience at sea. In 2018, he founded the catering company Curtis Stone Events, and he is currently planning a new restaurant in downtown Los Angeles slated to open in 2020.
Stone is a New York Times best-selling author of six cookbooks. His most recent, Good Food, Good Life, includes some of his favorite recipes to prepare at home with his wife and their two boys, ages 8 and 5. “When I’m at home, [cooking] is my way of doing something for my family,” Stone says. “Before you have kids, you’re pretty selfish. You think about yourself a lot and what you get out of things. When you have kids, it’s this incredible reminder of humanity. It’s important to stop and check yourself, which we probably don’t do much as adults — we move 100 miles an hour. My kids remind me to slow down.”
In his role as lead judge on the Emmy-winning series Top Chef Junior, Stone has become a mentor for the next generation of chefs.
Through his success, and especially in his role as lead judge on the Emmy-winning series Top Chef Junior, Stone has become a mentor for the next generation of chefs. They, too, remind him to decelerate and, in turn, consider ingredients in new ways. “They’ve just got this freedom of creativity. There’s no bad ideas,” he says. “As adults, quite often, we’re too embarrassed to say our idea in case people don’t think it’s a good one. Kids don’t seem to have that filter.”
Stone remains friends with his own mentor. But he has never told the elder chef that White Heat inspired the gutsy transoceanic move that paved the way for his illustrious career. “I didn’t think much about what I was going to say when I got there, and I didn’t even have a résumé printed out. I was probably trying to be too cool.” He just grabbed an apron and got to work.
“You know, it’s a tough job,” Stone says. “But I’m so proud of my career. It’s made all my dreams come true.”
11:30 a.m. James Beard Gourmet Four-Course Luncheon
$160 Reserved Seating
7 p.m. Celebrity Chef Reception
$150 VIP (entry at 6 p.m.)
$100 General Admission
Located at The Santorini House, 400 W. Camino Alturas, Palm Springs
10 a.m. Chef Demonstration, Tent 2
$160 Carte Blanche Pass
Scallops and Peas With Bacon and Mint
Makes four servings
12 large sea scallops, patted dry
3 pieces thick-sliced bacon
2 ½ cups shelled fresh peas (from 2 pounds peas in the pod)
½ cup coarsely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons olive oil
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for 2 minutes, until bright and tender. Transfer the peas to a bowl of ice water to cool; drain well.
Cut the bacon crosswise into ¼-inch strips. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook bacon, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but a thin layer of fat from the skillet.
Add the shallots to the skillet with the bacon fat and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add the peas and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Stir in the bacon and mint and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, season the scallops with salt and pepper. Heat another large skillet over high heat. Add the olive oil, then add the scallops and cook for 2 minutes on each side or until the scallops are golden brown but still translucent in the center. Transfer the scallops to paper towels to drain briefly.
Divide the pea mixture and scallops among four plates and serve.