Q&A: Curtis Stone on Living in L.A., Cooking for His Wife, and His New Restaurant Maude

This jewel box of a restaurant on South Beverly opens tomorrow

“I’m like a little kid, and it’s Christmas Eve,” says Curtis Stone, giddy on the day before he opens his first restaurant, Maude. Named for his grandmother, and the woman who instilled in Stone a love for food, Maude was also inspired by the chef’s seasonal approach to cooking.

What most people don’t know is that before he became a famous face on TV, Curtis Stone cooked with Marco Pierre White for many years and earned a Michelin star during his time at the well-regarded London restaurant Quo Vadis. The famously outspoken White recently defended critics who called Stone a “sell-out.” Those same critics are still sniffing around and whispering that this is a “vanity project” for chef Stone. But if it was, wonder his supporters, wouldn’t he have opened a 200-seat restaurant in Las Vegas and put his own name on it, in big, bold letters?

Instead, Maude is a tiny jewel box of a restaurant designed by Bishop Pass (Gjelina Take Away, The Parish, Abigaile) with banquettes lined in teal blue leather and a modern mix of marble-topped tables and mid-century chairs. Dishes come out on mismatched china that looks as if it came out of your grandmother’s cabinet. The kitchen is tucked into a corner near the rear, but it’s completely open. Every cook has a clear view of the entire 25-seat dining room, and the front door is not more than 20 feet away from the hot line.

Each month, Stone and his team of eight (including former Bouchon sous chef Andrew Phillips, Gareth Evans from Gordon Ramsay New York, and Clement Gosch from Melisse) pick a seasonal element and use it as a springboard for a nine-course tasting menu. The current theme is citrus. Bernard Ranch is supplying Cara Cara oranges and Oro Blanco. Finger limes and mandarins are coming from Mud Creek Ranch in Santa Paula, and satsumas and blood oranges from Regier Farm. For $75 per person, that gets you dishes like carrot soup with smoked parsnip, orange, and Serrano ham; a chicken terrine with pain perdu and mustard ice cream; and lemon curd with yuzu sorbet and hempseed cookies.

The project may sound small, but it’s ambitious. So we sat down with Curtis Stone who is—between being a husband (sorry, ladies) and father—a very busy man, to talk about life in L.A. and fulfilling a dream.

How’s it going?
I mean, it’s exciting, but I’m full of nervous anticipation. We’ve just made beef stock, and sure I’ve made beef stock dozens of times before, but there was a moment when I thought, ‘is it going to come out right?’ Thank god—it did!

How long have you been based in L.A.?
About eight years now. My wife and I have a two-year-old son who was born here, and we’re very settled here. I’m lucky that I get to go to Australia to visit family, but I’d say I spend 80 percent of my time in L.A.

How long have you been thinking about opening a restaurant like Maude?
The truth is, seven, eight years, but really since I started cooking. It’s every chef’s dream to have a small 25-seat, chef-driven restaurant. But until you get to a certain point in your life, it’s hard to make that happen. The other thing that was important for me was not to have a bunch of investors or other decision makers. I wanted it to be my own thing, and I wanted it to be small. You can cook much better food in a tiny little place than you can in an enormous gallery.

Why Beverly Hills? How did you find this location?
It came across my desk, to be honest. I was friends with a guy who had a little bit to do with the restaurant business. He had a buddy that had a friend that had something to do with real estate and he rang me and said I know you’re looking for a space and there’s one coming up. The truth was I wasn’t looking to open in Beverly Hills, but here’s my take: no matter where you go to dinner in L.A. you have to drive. I never cared about the location, I just wanted it to feel like a neighborhood place.

South Beverly is full of foot traffic—have people been stopping in to see what you’re doing?
Constantly. Up until a few weeks ago we didn’t have our windows frosted so everyone was pressing their nose up to the glass to look in. The locals have been very excited and curious. We’re sort of a sore thumb that sticks out from the casual lunch places, every day people come and seem to think, ‘what’s he doing in there?’ and the truth is I’m sometimes thinking the same thing myself.

Describe the food at Maude.
We don’t have any restrictions, we don’t have to cook however many covers, or stick to any particular menu. The food is seasonally driven. We sit down with all of our farmers and talk about what they can get and what they can’t. So we shape the menu around that. It’s a mix of comfort food and playful and elevated at the same time. When I say comfort food, there’s a handmade ravioli. To me, handmade pasta is so special and makes you feel a certain way. We’re making nostalgic dishes that you eat and, instantly, you love. The next course that comes along is more inventive and playful and uses an ingredient you haven’t seen before or a technique you haven’t seen before.

What’s the dish your wife always asks you to make for her?
She loves handmade pasta. Ha, I know she doesn’t look like she loves pasta! I used to do a lot of seafood at home. We’re lucky to have a wood-fired oven. But she’d always ask for fresh cavatelli with mussels or clams or whatever from the wood-fired oven.

People will say this is a vanity project. What will you say to them?
I grew up cooking in Michelin-starred restaurants, from the age of seventeen or eighteen up until seven or eight years ago, working in the best restaurants in the world. When I started Take Home Chef, I mean, think about it: if I wasn’t relatively comfortable in my own skin that would really have been a bother. I guess it’s funny how your career pans out. I started out in pursuit of a restaurant like Maude. But like most chefs, I wanted the limelight and to be recognized for my work in the kitchen. I started looking for and working towards the Michelin stars but the television stuff came calling. But look: the thing that I really miss is braising scallops in the morning and making beef stock and making sure it’s not cloudy. It’s something that’s hard to describe but it’s something other cooks will know. It’s great to write a cookbook or go on camera. But it’s not the same as when you slave over a hot stove and then get to watch people smile while eating your food.

Maude opens on February 1 and will serve dinner nightly Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations are recommended.

http://cdn2.lamag.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2014/01/arrow28.png Maude, 212 S. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-859-3418 or mauderestaurant.com.