Recipe4Living's Interview with Chef Curtis Stone
The editors here at Recipe4Living have long been fans of yours since the beginning and were introduced to you through TLC’s ‘Take Home Chef.’ We may still be bitter that we didn’t run into you at Chicago’s Green City Market, one of our favorite summer hangouts. What part of that series is your favorite? Do you like working on the fly in an unfamiliar kitchen? It seems like a daunting task.
I love Chicago! There is so much great food, from restaurants to the markets. I loved being there. In fact, it was my first time in Chicago and I’ve been back quite often now.
The idea of going to a grocery store and surprising a shopper and then cooking in a foreign kitchen space is both exciting and frightening at the same time. Working in an unfamiliar place often results in the producers wanting to feature any mini-disasters that come up in the kitchen, of course! Despite that, the show has taught me so much about how I work and all the skills you take for granted when you see what real people are going through. The reality is that many people are trying to prepare a home-cooked meal for their family while there is a 3-year-old running around the kitchen screaming.
‘America’s Next Great Restaurant’ and ‘Top Chef Masters’ are just two of the programs you’ve hosted or been a part of. What appeals to you most about each of the programs, and what is the most gratifying part of the experience of hosting a show?
It’s really interesting and beautiful to watch other chefs cook. There is a certain course of action that is involved. On Top Chef Masters, I get to see what the challenge is and think about what I would do in that situation, but then the chefs come up with ideas I never would’ve thought of and turn the whole challenge on its head! It’s really exciting to watch and be a part of.
The truth is, I love to eat, so I have a dream job. I get to travel to beautiful culinary destinations, so it’s a dream come true.
We know that you are a new dad. Congratulations! What set of new challenges does that bring to the table? (Sorry for the pun!)
It has been crazy but great. I think I should title my next book “One-Handed Cooking”. It’s harder than you think, but a whole lot of fun!
You work with Post Cereal’s Great Grains and focus on incorporating whole foods into your diet for better nutrition. Why work with Post, and what is the message you are trying to send through this partnership?
I really enjoyed working with Post! Everyone there is just amazing. The idea of keeping grains whole is important to me. Post steam rolls their delicious grains and that equals better nutrition. It was my first time making a pumpkin grit, which was pretty exciting. I love working with fruits and nuts, and I played around with sweetening grains in their pure state, like sweetening up a baked apple with honey or agave. If you have good ingredients, you don’t have to worry too much about everything else. It falls into place.
What are your tips for those cooks just starting out? What do you wish you had known when you started out?
It’s important to keep it simple, with simple ideas. You should know how to turn a roast chicken into dinner ahead of the game and prep for the week. If you prep at the beginning of the week, you’ll have food for all the upcoming days! It’s easy to become intimidated by food; cooking can be nerve-wracking. The truth is, that as long as you start simple and keep it simple, you won’t be overcome by those emotions. You can start with a salad with a few ingredients and go from there. You can grill up some shrimp or use grapefruit juice to glaze some chicken; it’s easy if you start simple and build upon one idea.
What are some of your favorite Springtime seasonal fruits and vegetables? What dishes are you excited to be making once Spring has sprung?
I’ve been in the mode of making the most of seasonal winter vegetables before they’re gone; it makes me kind of sad, really. I’m really looking forward to cooking more with asparagus as Spring progresses; asparagus is really the ultimate for me: they’re like my old friends. They come back and I love to incorporate them into my meals. There are so many great ingredients you can grill, from asparagus to zucchini and squash. It’s so easy to make these delicious on the grill. I especially love mushrooms in Spring; you start to see the morel mushrooms. I absolutely love them. Fruits start coming in, too. I miss strawberries. I don’t let myself have them during the Winter months, and they’re a joy to enjoy in the Spring. Obviously they’re available in the hotels and restaurants and in California, we have longer seasons, but I let myself wait to enjoy them.
What are some key ingredients that instantly make any bland dish better, excluding salt and pepper?
It’s always good to start with your spice rack. Start with a salt mixture as seasoning, and then build up slowly, incorporating fennel and cumin or turmeric and smoked paprika. All of these spices make for beautiful dry rubs. I like a mixture, but it really depends on timing. Sure, it’s great to bust out the mortar and pestel and work with toasted or grounded fresh spices; that’s all well and good. The truth is, sometimes I have 10 minutes when I get home, so it’s easier to use spices that are ready-made. We have to be realistic. There are always pressures for people, and it’s always different, whether it’s a time pressure or a budget pressure. You have to make things work for you!
It’s really obvious, but bacon is a go-to ingredient. When you think of bacon, the word ‘healthy’ probably doesn’t come to mind, but there are so many ways to incorporate bacon. It’s basically just cured pork, so it can add a smoky flavor to a dish. You can use prosciutto to add a slight salty flavor or wrap chicken up in bacon. Cured meats are definitely a favorite of mine.
Learn more about Curtis on his website!
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Check out the folks at Post's Great Grains!
Interested in making the Post Great Grains Baked Apple recipe?
1 1/2 cups Great Grains Raisin, Dates, & Pecans cereal
2 Tbs. agave syrup
Zest from 1/2 small lemon
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3 large Fuji apples, halved lengthwise
2 Tbs. dark brown sugar, divided
2 C. apple juice
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
Tip: A melon baller scoops out the core from the apples with ease. If you don't have a melon baller, use a small spoon instead.
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F. In a small bowl, mix together the cereal, agave, lemon zest, cinnamon and nutmeg.
2. Using a melon baller, scoop out the apple cores. Place the apples cut side up in a large ovenproof skillet. If necessary, cut a small slice off the bottoms of the apple halves to keep them from toppling over. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the brown sugar over the apples. Fill the apple cavities with the cereal mixture then mound the mixture generously on top of the apples, allowing it to nearly cover the entire cut surface of the apples.
3. Pour the apple juice into the bottom of the skillet and place the skillet in the oven, lightly covered with foil. Bake the apples for 20 minutes, then remove foil and bake until they are crisp-tender and the stuffing is golden brown, about 20 minutes more.
4. Transfer the apples to plates. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of brown sugar to the cooking liquid in the pan and simmer over medium-high heat until it thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice.
5. Spoon the sauce over the hot apples and serve each with a dollop of yogurt.