TORONTO - Celebrity chef Curtis Stone knows he has a pretty good gig as a successful TV host and cookbook author. Still, he acknowledges there was something missing.
Longing for the creative freedom and rush of adrenalin he used to get cooking in restaurants back home in Melbourne, Australia, and in Britain, Stone recently decided it was time to return to the kitchen.
"Don't get me wrong, I love doing this stuff, but there's something more to my background than making chicken wings with curry paste," Stone said this week during a visit to Toronto to promote his sixth cookbook, "Good Food, Good Life." "I love them and I cook them for my family. It's great. But to fulfil me as a chef I wanted to be able to dehydrate the lemon grass and then turn it into a liquid gel, just do a bit of a deke and dive on ingredients."
Last year, he opened Maude in Beverly Hills. The tiny 25-seat restaurant features a unique concept where his prix-fixe menu changes each month to highlight one specific ingredient, which is woven into each dish over nine courses.
"I guess in a way being out of the restaurant for some years I stopped cooking at that cutting edge of food," he said. "I stopped cooking at that really high, elevated level."
The concept at Maude — named after his grandmother who opened his eyes to cooking — seems to be working. The eatery opened to rave reviews and reservations are a hot commodity.
"The truth of it is I didn't need to do it from a career perspective," Stone said. "I wasn't like, 'Oh, my God, how am I going to feed my family this week?' I had a business. It was doing fine. But I really missed it. I missed being in a restaurant."
His two executive chefs take turns running Maude and developing the next menu with Stone at a nearby test kitchen.
Asparagus is April's featured ingredient.
"We put it under a microscope," he said. "We literally dehydrate it, we grind it, we blend it, we puree it, we turn it into a powder, we turn it into a gel, into a mousse, into an ice, into a snow, into a sorbet, into an ice cream, and we probably get 30-odd components out of the asparagus. Most we know what to do. Some we dream up. What would happen if we did this? So we experiment."
Next month almonds are the feature. Earlier this year, pomegranates and parsnips were highlighted.
"I know my concept's quite polarizing," he said. "I only cook with one ingredient a month so if you don't like fennel then you're going to have a really horrible time during fennel month. ...
"I get that we are also a little difficult to deal with when it comes to allergies, vegetarians. And again the reason I wanted to do this restaurant was so I could do something brilliantly."
He's open for dinner five days a week and reserves Sundays to spend with his family, wife actress Lindsay Price of "Beverly Hills, 90210" fame, and two young sons, Hudson and Emerson.
In "Good Food, Good Life" (Appetite by Random House), Stone includes 130 recipes for easy meals that home cooks can share with family and friends.
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