Curtis Stone, internationally renowned chef (NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” “Take Home Chef,” “Celebrity Apprentice,” and “America’s Next Great Restaurant”) dished up a healthy conversation with me on his hosting gig on season three (3) Top Chef Masters. America’s sexiest import opened up about his love and intimidation for Southern food, Celebrity Apprentice, his love for Kelis’ milkshakes, and biting into a worm omelet.
Top Chef Masters premieres on Wednesday, April 6 at 11 pm and then it will move to its regularly scheduled time slot the following week on Wednesdays at 10 pm.
Curtis, you’re extremely good looking. What do you do to keep the ladies off you?
Curtis Stone: I try to encourage them to come forward. I don’t keep them back at all. That’s funny.
We were first introduced to you as a chef. Now you’re a host. Which do you enjoy doing the most and do you think that Celebrity Apprentice boosts your career somewhat?
Curtis Stone: My entire world revolves around food and I love cooking and whenever I can, I’m in a kitchen. This was a really special opportunity for me. I got asked to not only be involved in a show with some of the world’s best chefs, but also sit at a critics table with some of the world’s leading food critics. So it was one of those experiences that I’ll never forget. I got to eat some fantastic food and get a real insight into how these guys judge their foods. It was wonderful around. So I’ve got to say, it was one of my favorite TV shows ever and very different to other stuff that I’ve done. So it was a lot of fun. Being on the Celebrity Apprentice really affected my experience. I’ve been working with Feeding America since I got to the states. I actually – I used to cook Christmas dinner for the homeless when I lived in London and when I came to the states. I tried to find a similar charity and did so. And I’ve been working with them for quite a while and was sitting around talking with David Arquette one night about different things that we could do because David’s been really instrumental in building sort of this celebrity base to the charity and raising a whole lot of awareness and money for it. And then we also came from Celebrity Apprentice and excited to be involved in the show. I said oh, why not. It’ll be fun and I thought it would be fun until I wound up in a room with Bret Michaels and Bill Goldberg and Sharon Osbourne and I thought what am I doing here? But I actually quite enjoyed the experience. It was like playing a game every day. It was something different and watching how we’d have to sit across the table from Donald Trump of course and listen to him swing his axe. It was very interesting. It gave me a real perspective on how the contestants were feeling in this competition because, you’re standing there thinking am I going to look foolish here? Is he going to destroy me? And just like with these guys, it’s their credibility on the line and they’re doing the best they can but we give them some really unbelievable circumstance to cook under on Top Chef Masters and, no matter how great these chefs are, we really make them show that mastery through their cooking in the limited time we give them and all the rest of it. So I could really empathize with them.
What peaked your interest to sign on for season three of Top Chef Masters?
Curtis Stone: This season we really mixed it up. We changed the format and all the chefs were in the show together and in the previous seasons there was tournaments. And two of the chefs went through but in this one we followed the format of Top Chef where all the chefs begin and in each episode, one chef’s eliminated. So I think that that really increased the pressure compared with other seasons because as a chef myself, and knowing what it’s like to enter these competitions, the last thing in the world you want to do is to see the final curtain fall in episode one. But I think the real pressure that we saw the chefs under was just immense. And I was privileged to eat their food and give sort of comments on it. In a way, I felt fortunate that I didn’t have a say in what actually happened. It was up to the critics to decide. I felt a little uneasy about judging my peers but I love making comments and sort of adding some value to that critics table. So I really enjoyed it.
Are you feeling added pressure as a host?
Curtis Stone: It was so much fun to be the host of the show and in a way I felt like my voice at the critics table was almost there for the chefs. I felt like I wasn’t there to sort of tell them what they did wrong about their food. If anything, I was to plead their case to the critics and to try and justify why what ended up on the plate that’s in front of us. And it’s always very difficult. You don’t understand the inner workings of what’s happened and the specifics – especially since we’re putting them under such pressure with the different challenges. Sometimes you get a plate of food in front of you and you think well why have they done that. Otherwise try and fight the corner as it were.
And as a chef, whose opinion do you value more; fellow chefs or a food critic?
Curtis Stone: I’ll tell you this. There’s nothing more nerve wrecking than cooking for other chefs apart from cooking for critics who hold your career in your hand. I think – I value both and I know this sounds like a copout of a response but I really do value both equally because I think chefs can understand what you’ve done from a technical perspective. What kind f techniques did you use, what kind of – how did you treat the ingredients to get them to taste a certain way. So they look at it more from a technical perspective. But then critics look at it from the diner’s perspective and I think that that is probably maybe even slightly more important because you can impress a chef but at the end of the day, they’re not your customers. Diners are. And critics look at it purely from their experience and that’s really what matters. Working with these guys really blew me away. The knowledge – the wealth of knowledge of both the critics and some of the other guests that we had on the show was just phenomenal. I don’t think there’s a dish that I could try on Ruth that she couldn’t tell me from what era it came from and who was the first to cook it and who made it famous. Knowledge like that about food is just so important because I always say to people I can teach you how to make one dish but you really have to understand the background of it and the entire life of that dish because it’s that knowledge that helps you understand how it should be treated and how it should be cooked and I think that’s why the most successful critics are the most knowledgeable.
Who will be tasting the bugs and insects on the show?
Curtis Stone: I have a specific point of view here because I was the one that had to eat all of those bugs. I tell everybody this was the best job of my life. That was one of the worst days of the best job of life. I can tell you that. The chefs had a challenge. We had guests from the show Man, Woman, Wild on and these guys – I’m not sure. They get dumped in the middle of nowhere and have to survive on whatever they can find. So we went and found our chefs everything from night crawlers and beetles and bugs and you name it and they had to cook with it and guess who got to eat it all. And it was-no matter how good these chefs are it’s pretty hard to cook with those sorts of things. And there was some good attempts and there was some that just didn’t work and unfortunately, I got to eat them all. I still have a memory of biting on a worm omelet and feeling the grit in the worm and wanting to wretch. Every time I think about it, I still have the same feeling.
Kelis, Maroon 5 and other entertainers were special guest. Did you like Kelis Milkshake?
Curtis Stone: We had Kelis. The artist that sang my Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard. I can give you – I can actually sing it for you if you like. We – I didn’t realize that she was actually a trade qualified chef. She’d gone to the Cordon Bleu and you know it’s so interesting. These celebrities come on board and we’re sort of in awe of them and they’re totally in awe of the whole Top Chef franchise and wanted to get their photo in front of the Top Chef Masters sign and it was really cute to see. I loved meeting her mom too. Her mom was there that day and that was just super great. Another episode we had Maroon 5 on who of course is this incredible rock band that are on tour all the time and we got a real look into their life and how they travel and what they eat and what sort of food they like. And we had our chefs do some incredible food for them. So it was a really fun journey. It was great to have them on. And you know before the season started, Alison Sweeny, the host of The Biggest Loser, phoned me up and said look, even if you don’t get me on the show, I’d just love to come and hang out and watch it all happen because I’m such a huge fan. And to hear that from those kinds of people is just so touching. It was great. I remember we had Christina Henricks on one of the episodes with her husband and we actually had the chefs cook this incredible cocktail party for them. And it was so interesting to listen to their experience on set and what the food of the 60s was like and then having them around this food from the 60s all the time. And then for us to relive it and go back in time as well. That was really fun. That was a whole lot of fun.
What do you think of the food from the New Orleans region?
Curtis Stone: I was going to say the great thing about people from that region – I’m a huge fan of the food in New Orleans. I wasn’t when I first came to the country. I actually found it quite intimidating because I didn’t know anything about it. And you know the great thing about chefs from that region is they just cook with so much passion and love and flair and it just shines through. You know, whether it’s your favorite type of cuisine or not, it’s – you can’t do anything but love it because it’s just so raw and so real.
These chefs are already celebrated chefs, were they very receptive?
Curtis Stone: Yes. You know what was really interesting. We did a quickfire challenge where we had all of the chefs actually race – rank from best to worst all of the dishes that were done and they had the opportunity to rank themselves as the best dish and there wasn’t a single chef that did rank themself as the best dish. So, I think that goes to show just how modest and humble these guys are.
How important are farmers market?
Curtis Stone: I think that’s super important. I’m actually looking down. I’m wearing a t-shirt that’s got a picture of a tractor that says support your local farmer on it. And I think that by supporting your local farmers we end up giving a little bit of love to the real heroes of the food industry and the chef and I know chefs get a lot of credit and we get a lot of glory at the moment on TV and writing books and all the rest of it. But I really feel like the heroes of the food world are the cheese makers and the farmers and the fisherman and the cowboys. It’s the people that really put their entire life into raising beautiful ingredients for us to cook with. So I think farmers markets are great. We didn’t make it to a farmers market on this season but the essence of farmers markets is right through it. It doesn’t matter which chef or contestant you talk to, they all believe in sustainability and seasonality and I really think that they all have a great respect for the raw product. So yes. I’m all for farmers markets. They’re just such nice places to hang out. I mean all you have to do is take yourself a bag and go down and the great thing about farmers markets is you’re talking to the people that grow the ingredients. So they’re really knowledgeable about what they grow and they’re friendly and when you go to some places and you get such a nice vibe and you get into such a great mood by talking to other people that are there. So you can talk about different ingredients and if there’s things like okra that you haven’t tried before and they’re available, then speak to the people that grow it and speak to the other customers and you’ll find it really easy to spark up good conversation and pick yourself some nice ingredients.
At the end of each season, the chefs normally gain a few pounds. Have you gained any weight doing this season?
Curtis Stone: Well I sure didn’t lose any weight. I put on about five pounds over the course of the show. I might have downgraded that. It might have been more like twelve.