Curtis Stone is no stranger to the spotlight. The Melbourne, Australia, native has been cooking professionally since he was 18. He racked up extensive experience in Europe before settling in London, where he found a notorious mentor in Marco Pierre White. Stone first ended up in front of a camera in 2003 with “Surfing the Menu” and has gone on to be a host or judge on shows like “Top Chef Masters,” “All-Star Academy” and “My Kitchen Rules,” in addition to frequent appearances on national talk shows like “Today” and “The Chew.” Somehow, he’s managed to balance his television commitments with helping to raise two sons with wife Lindsay Price and running two high-profile Los Angeles restaurants that pay tribute to his grandmothers. Gwen revolves around a wood-burning hearth and in-house butcher shop. Maude initially showcased a different seasonal ingredient each month, and will soon re-focus attention on the world’s wine growing regions. Stone has also earned a reputation for giving back to the community, as demonstrated by commitments to organizations like Chrysalis, a local organization that’s “dedicated to creating a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals by providing the resources and support needed to prepare for, find, and retain employment.” I recently spoke with Stone by e-mail and discussed four different cornerstones of his life: charity, family, restaurants, and television.
Joshua Lurie: L.A. houses dozens of charities doing great work for the community. What appealed to you about teaming with Chrysalis considering all the options?
Curtis Stone: I first heard about Chrysalis when my wife, Lindsay, and I were invited to the Butterfly Ball, their annual fundraiser. A guy from their hiring program spoke about how he had a rough start in life but was given a second chance at life through Chrysalis. I knew I had to get involved. The discipline of a kitchen is really suitable for people in transition and Chrysalis works with men and women who are low-income and sometimes homeless and gives them the skills to get and maintain employment. The team environment of a restaurant really works if everyone is going in the same direction. It’s been an emotional journey with these guys. They love the drive and passion of the kitchen and have become integral parts of our team.
JL: By committing to Chrysalis as your #commit2one cause for 2017, what are the actual commitments that your company’s making at Gwen and Maude? Are you referring to a specific number of jobs, or other types of support?
CS: We’ve hired through Chrysalis since Maude opened and this year I decided I wanted to become more involved. Linds and I acted as auctioneers at the Butterfly Ball this year. We also had a call to action and collected personal hygiene products to help stock the three resource rooms at the Chrysalis centers. The products are given to clients to get them interview ready. I’m looking forward to running the Turkey Trot in downtown L.A. on Thanksgiving morning. We actually have a team for the 5K and everyone can join and help raise funds for Chrysalis. You can sign up by visiting www.ChangeLives.org/Turkey. There are really so many ways to get involved.
JL: What do you anticipate your relationship with Chrysalis to be like after 2017 ends?
We hired our first employee through Chrysalis, Darrell, in 2014 and we’ll continue to hire through their program. The retention rate among those employees hired from Chrysalis is twice as high as my other kitchen staff. That’s an incredible statistic since turnover is so high in this industry. I hosted a group of restaurateurs and industry leaders this summer and encouraged them to hire from Chrysalis. A few of the Chrysalis guys shared their stories with those who attended. The response was emotional and powerful and people made the commitment to become involved. I couldn’t feel more encouraged to continue working with the organization.
JL: What are your favorite aspects of running restaurants?
CS: I love the bustle of the kitchen. I am at Gwen or Maude every night when I am in town. We cook over live fire at Gwen and there is something very primal about cleaning up the ash from the previous night, stoking the flames to get a new fire going, and cooking beautiful meat on the asador.
JL: What do you find most satisfying about working in TV?
CS: I get to meet amazing people, taste incredible food, and travel to fabulous destinations. I love being able to shoot in Los Angeles where daily schedules wrap early enough for me to get back to kitchen at the restaurants in time for service.
JL: Did you always feel comfortable in front of a camera? If not, what did it take for you to become comfortable?
CS: I was working with Marco Pierre White when I was approached to do “Surfing the Menu.” It really was the dream job – traveling through Australia, hopping on a surfboard, and making tasty food with my mate, Ben O’Donoghue. It was all very natural and it was the perfect entrée into television.
JL: In what ways has having children changed your relationship with food?
CS: I’ve really enjoyed educating my sons about where food comes from. We have a home garden and grow all sorts of vegetables and fruits that the boys help maintain. What we don’t use at home, I bring into the restaurants.
JL: What would be on the table for a dream meal for your family?
CS: Family-style and outside with lots of fresh veggies from the garden, some great steaks from the butcher shop at Gwen, a lobster dish for Lindsay since it’s her favorite, and a couple of nice bottles of wine.