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A hearty interview with chef Curtis Stone

Kidsday reporters David Tucciarone, Samira Yancha, Isabella Guarino

Kidsday reporters David Tucciarone, Samira Yancha, Isabella Guarino and Ryan Scully, all from Bay Shore Middle School, with celebrity chef Curtis Stone at the Tanger Outlets in Deer Park. (April 7, 2013) Credit: Newsday Pat Mullooly

We interviewed celebrity chef Curtis Stone when he visited the Tanger Outlets in Deer Park last month. We talked with him before his food demonstration.

How has your culinary point of view changed through the years?

It changes all the time because the seasons change. You guys know that in New York better than we know it in California because here it's hot one minute, then it's cold, then it's spring, and then it's autumn. I think as those seasons change Mother Nature gives us an incredible array of fruits and vegetables to use. I sort of see her as the queen of my cuisine because what you get from a market . . . usually comes from a local farm and it's ripe and tastes delicious. When you eat an apple in the middle of winter, you're like apples can be so delicious and they are when they're picked at the right time, growing at the right time.

For how long have you been cooking as a career?

I've been cooking since I was 18 professionally. Twenty years.

What was the first thing you ever cooked?

I was with my granny, who was from Yorkshire, which is in the northern part of England and she used to make this delicious fudge, which was really sugary and amazing. And I was about 4 years old and every time I would go to her house I would beg her to give me some more of her fudge. In the end she used to make me write out all the ingredients and get it all ready for her, and she would make it. That was sort of my first introduction to cooking with her. I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Who has influenced you the most?

I worked for Marco Pierre White, who was the youngest guy in the world to win three Michelin stars, who was the best chef in the world when he was on top of his game. I cooked with him for eight years. The first cookbook I ever bought was his cookbook, and then I moved to London to go and work for him. He's probably my biggest influence.

How did training with Marco Pierre White affect your cooking?

Marco was a crazy man. He used to work so long in the kitchen. He'd be in the kitchen five days, seven to eight hours a day. So you can imagine how intense it is to be working with someone like that. It's like in a military camp sometimes. You have to sort of push yourself to the limit. So I think Marco really taught me the ethics of really hard work and I kept that with me. I still work very hard today. So Marco was a great influence.

Which of your restaurants is your favorite?

I don't have a restaurant right now, but what I will do is open one this year. So that will be my favorite because it will be my only one. I had something in London before moving to the states, and since being in the states, I've concentrated more on the media. But I'll be opening my first one in Beverly Hills sometime after summer.

What is your favorite style of cooking?

I guess my favorite cuisine is French, and that's because that's sort of what I studied. I spent a lot of time in France and love that style of food. But I've worked and lived all over the place so I love Asian cuisine, I like Italian food, I like sort of modern American food, which is a little bit more market driven. It's hard for me to say.

Would you rather be cooking in front of a camera or in a restaurant and why?

I would like to do a little bit of both. When I'm in a restaurant, it's like a really great camaraderie between the rest of the kitchen brigade. So it's like you're playing a sport and you're part of a team. When you're cooking in front of the camera, there are different pressures. You only have a short amount of time to get your point across. You get a little bit nervous every time you do it. Sometimes it's live, sometimes it's pretaped. You've got to concentrate on your cooking and talking to the camera.

There are a bunch of things to consider. I kind of enjoy that adrenaline rush as well. I don't know if I can pick one as my favorite.

Do you have any dishes that you only cook for your family?

I cook really simply at home, and I think that's what most cooks do. Which is why I wrote this book "What's for Dinner" it's all about really simple home cooking that still tastes delicious but only has a few ingredients, or only takes a little bit of time, or only uses one pot so there's not too much cleaning up. I cook really simply. Roast chicken I do at home quite often. I got a wood fire outside. I'll light a fire, I roast the chicken with some potatoes and that's like a really nice family meal for us.

Have you ever cooked competitively?

Absolutely. I think as a chef you want to do great things. So you're always competitive. And you're taught to be competitive. You want the restaurant to get the best reviews. You want your restaurant to win the biggest awards. I was very competitive within the entertainment environment like that and I've gone on to do things like "Iron Chef," different sort of competitions as a chef against other chefs. I competed in the Salon Culinaire when I was a young guy representing Australia. So I've always been competitive.

Do you use any recipes from other chefs?

I steal them all the time. I get their cookbooks and I flip through. A part of being a good chef is being open to new inspirations. I'm always eating in other people's restaurants and reading other people's books and I get inspiration. I don't steal them and I never copy them, but I always get inspiration from them I'm sure.

What is the best meal you ever made?

The best one that I've made. You can only judge your food by the reaction you get from people. So I guess when I was cooking in London, I used to get some great reviews in restaurants. But to me, cooking at home is really special. When you sort of sit around a table and you watch people really react to food that they love. I love playing with homemade pasta, so I recently made some lobster ravioli and got some scampi and sautéed the scampi with the little sauce. And everybody at the dinner table just loved it. So maybe that was my biggest triumph yet.

What inspired you to stop studying business and to pursue a career as a chef?

What actually happened with me was I started to cook in a restaurant and did what we call an apprenticeship in Australia, where you go to school part-time and you work the rest of the time and I worked at a big 5-star hotel and all I did all day was slice onions, peel carrots and do sacks of onions. Then I'd finish the sack of onions and I would be like, 'What's my next job shift?' and they'd be like, 'You see that sack of onions over there? Peel that one.' I really didn't enjoy it for the first 12 months. So I decided to go to the university and study business after I already started cooking. But I did it part-time for a few years and then I really started to enjoy the cooking because I started to progress through the apprenticeship a little. So I gave up on the Uni. So I stopped the business studies and just kept up with the cooking.

Do you ever think of furthering your career?

A very good question, young lady. I think as a chef you never stop learning and in these days we have so many opportunities opened up to us. We can work in restaurants, we can get involved in the media, do a little bit of television. I just got to write a cookbook, which was very exciting. There's all sorts of different things that you can do online. I think when you get to a certain point in your career you can really make a different to people and how they cook for their families and if you can have an influence, in a good way, that people are making healthy choices, getting more out of their family dinner table. Then I think that's a pretty special thing. To further my career, maybe I'll become even more philanthropic than I am.

What are your plans?

I've opened myself up to a lot of different experiences. I've traveled a lot which has been amazing and as great things have happened for me, I've tried to make great things happen for other people. So I've become more and more involved in different charities and shared some of my knowledge and platform that I get to speak about different organizations on. Foundations like Feeling America, the Starlight Foundation, Make-a -Wish Foundation, all sorts of different things.

What is your favorite dish to cook overall?

I've got so many favorites. I got a real sweet tooth so I love cooking desserts. I always think what you cook really well you really like to eat. I grew up around the ocean in Australia and I like cooking seafood. So Lindsey and I eat pretty healthy. I've got a beautiful veggie garden. I like to go out and pick a few things from the garden and then I cook like a mixture of seafood, scallops and mussels, whatever I find in the market. Little pieces of fish. I put them all in the same pan with some garlic and white wine and parsley. That's a bit of a staple at our place. That's probably my favorite.

What do you recommend to people who want to be in your position?

If you want to get into my position, well there's two things you have to do. You have to work really hard. I told you the story about peeling the onions and peeling the carrots. I had to do that when I first started cooking and I didn't like it, but I did it and now I can cut onion like nobody else. So I'm very proud of my knife skills. I think what you have to do when you enter into any career whether it's mine career or someone else's, you have to be prepared to do all the hard work first. Because without doing the hard work you don't really gain the skills and without those skills you can't go on to do great things. So you got to work really hard and you got to find something that you absolutely love and I absolutely love food, I love to eat, I love to cook, I love to share, I love to watch other people eat what I made. So if you don't have that, I think it's really hard to achieve great things. But everybody can find something they'll love and then you go and follow that dream.

What was it like to be on the set of "The Biggest Loser" and "Celebrity Apprentice"?

That was so different those two shows because "The Biggest Loser" you meet people that have a really interesting relationship with food. For some people we love food. For me it's what makes me so happy and I like to cook and I like to eat. Every time I think about food, I love it. And when I met the contestants on "The Biggest Loser," they have a horrible relationship with food. When they think of food they think about being sick and they think of overindulging. They think of all the things that have made them so overweight. It's really interesting many people have such a different prospective on the same thing. I have a great prospective, they have a horrible prospective on the same ingredient. My role on "The Biggest Loser" was to help those contestants understand that they could start to have a more healthy relationship with food. Eat in better moderation, teach them little tips and tricks about tempting themselves with good food rather than bad food. Stop using food as comfort. A whole variety of things. So to see the transition of when you first go onto the show and you meet them in week one and they're on a bunch of different medications and potentially have things like diabetes and their doctors have warned them that they could have a heart attack. All this really scary stuff. So when they've lost all the weight at the end of the show and their confidence is booming and they've stopped taking all the medications that they were on, they've gotten rid of the diabetes that they used to have in some cases. To watch that transformation is just fantastic.

"Celebrity Apprentice" was a very different ballgame. I arrived in New York to do "CA" and I met all the other contestants and I thought, 'I'm the only normal one here' because Cyndi Lauper was talking to herself, Bret Michaels was talking about himself, Sharon Osbourne was mad as a cut snake. So I met these people I was like, 'What am I doing here?' It was all for charity so I played for a charity called Feeding America and I got to raise some money for them. Talk about it on the show. So it was really a nice experience as well.

What was the funniest thing that ever happened around the dinner table?

I've never been asked that question before. Well done. Well, I'll tell you a funny story that happened at the dinner table. I wasn't there at the time, but I just had taken over a new restaurant in London, called Blue Bird and there was this big ol' wood-fire oven. So I invited my sister, my best friend and a couple of others in for dinner. Because I said I want to fire up this oven, get it really hot, see what I can do in it. So I was going to roast lobsters, do all this fancy food for them. So they came there and sat around the dinner table and lo and behold the oven had an appropriate fire void put above it, which meant a fire started in the ceiling above the oven. So before you know it the entire kitchen was on fire and my friends and family were sitting in the dining room watching this unfold and they didn't get to eat a single thing. It wasn't funny at the time, but looking back it was pretty hilarious. We were lucky enough to get the fire brigade there in time. So we put the fire out and everybody was safe and it was all OK. That was a pretty disastrous thing that happened to me at the dinner table.

When you were young, did you always want to become a chef?

I didn't always want to be a chef, but I always wanted to cook and I always wanted to eat because I was a greedy kid. My mom was quite strict with our diet. We didn't have any sodas, we didn't have any chips or things like that in our house, which at the time I was like, 'What's the matter with this?' All my friends get to eat that stuff. But now I really appreciate it. I think the more I learned about food, the more I wanted to cook.

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