I had the pleasure of meeting chef Curtis Stone (whom I had interviewed about healthy eating habits back in July as well) to ask about his Locals Know Best – Dish on the Dish campaign, where he’s been traveling and asking locals about their favorite dishes and local food experts in the area. I met Curtis (who is every bit as charming in person as you’d imagine) at Hotel Indigo in Chelsea to talk more about his initiatives in learning about the best of the best in local food culture.
Beauty and the Feast: Let’s me start by asking what your relationship is with Hotel Indigo with this campaign?
Chef Curtis Stone: As you know, we’re doing a thing called Locals Knows Best, which is all about driving people into hotels with local knowledge, so when guests come they get to experience where they should go shopping, where they should eat their food. The event is called Dish on the Dish, where the hotel bring in their favorite dishes around NY, and we share it with the guests.
BATF: What do you like about the food here today? Any favorites?
CS: I really like the way they approach it. They have a nice chili dish and nice panna cotta too. Have you tried it yet?
BATF: Not yet! I actually have some reader questions first: What inspired you to be a chef?
CS: I always loved to eat. I was a greedy kid when I was young and I was a little bit tubby, always be going for the food. My mum was strict with us in terms of what we could and could not eat when we were young. And my way around her was to learn how to cook. We couldn’t have any processed, but then she let me bake, so I learned how to bake too.
BATF: What do you like to do more — cook or bake?
CS: I like to cook more than bake. I would only bake out of necessity to get my hands on the sweet stuff.
BATF: It sounds like you grew up with a sort of consciousness of eating local too –what are some places in New York you like to eat local?
CS: I love ABC Kitchen. It’s my favorite restaurant! It’s just beautiful. I love their style of natural, rustic, organic, great quality ingredients cooked very simply. To me, food is all about your mood, right? If you want to do something fancy, there’s certainly places to do that. I love Per Se. I love Yakitori Totto for something on the go. There are a lot of places for delicious food, really.
BATF: Is there a cuisine you feel like you haven’t perfected?
CS: Oh, there are lots. The beauty of food is there’s no way in a lifetime you can absorb it all. There’s always something new to learn. That’s the amazing thing about it. I’d love to spend some time in Japan, I’ve never been. I love to eat it. I cook it occasionally, but I’d love to go to Japan and learn more about it.
BATF: What has been your worst cooking disaster?
CS: I’ve had some pretty famous ones! I once had a big disaster on a stage. I put a cake in, and it wasn’t the right temperature so I thought I’ll just dial it up and it’ll be ok. I kept talking about this lemon cake and how fabulous it was. I knew I needed a bit longer, so I kept trying to buy myself time by talking it up. And I finally took it out and it just spread all over the floor…in front of 500 people.
BATF: Oh no! Where was that?
CS: It was in Melbourne. It was one of the first time I cooked on a stage in front of people so I was mortified. I’m surprised I went back for more.
BATF: Is there a quick dish you like to make that tastes very gourmet?
CS: I think the best thing is to follow the seasons. As we start to transition into fall, you get amazing mushrooms, great squash. Mushrooms are so incredible on their own, and there are so many different varieties. Sautee them with a little bit of shallots, or onions, some garlic, a splash of balsamic or cherry vinegar and serve it with poached eggs and wilted arugula. A poached egg with all those delicious mushrooms is amazing for brunch or even dinner.
BATF: So I’ve been to a lot of restaurants that are supposed to be “Australian” but I don’t know if that’s because it’s Aussie-owned or really the cuisine itself. I guess you’re the best person to ask: What exactly constitutes Australian food?
CS: That’s a good question. Australian food’s really steeped in European traditions, but you know a lot of Asian people live in Australia. Geographically, we’re more or less a part of Asia. So we get a lot great ingredients from Asia and knowledge from Asian chefs. It can mean anything. I think culture is always represented by cuisine, and the Aussie culture is quite anti-authoritarian, very young, very multi-cultural so all those things comes across in the food. So chefs there, they try to break a lot of rules, try new things, cutting-edge – it’s an exciting cuisine, the Aussie cuisine. It’s still quite organic in its nature. We live near the ocean, so we eat a lot of sea food, lots of natural foods, and lots of tropical fruits.
BATF: Do you think Australians eat better than Americans?
CS: I would never blanket Americans and say this is what Americans are like. Let me give you five spots for example: New Orleans, New York, Seattle, Des Moines, Los Angeles….they’re so different! They all got such different food cultures. The Midwest has their own thing, then places on the coast, the Creole/Cajun thing in the south. It’s the United States of America — it’s not just one country in my opinion from a food’s perspective. It’s many things under different umbrellas. You can eat beautiful Indian food in New York, and incredible Chinese food in San Francisco. You can’t get those things in certain parts of the Midwest. In the Midwest they have incredible steak and potatoes culture, and in the south they have great barbecue – everywhere is different.
BATF: I can imagine as a chef, you’re constantly nibbling on food — how do you keep in shape?
CS: You gotta find a way to exercise, something that you love doing. I love to surf so I spend a lot of time in the water. I have a dog, so we run a lot together. I stay really actively. And actually, when you cook you’re on your feet a lot so it’s not like you’re sitting in the office. I also eat a balanced diet, a lot of fruits and vegetables. I eat a lot of chocolates as well, but I stay pretty active.
BATF: What’s your guilty pleasure food?
CS: Tacos! I love tacos.
BATF: What kind of tacos?
CS: I eat them all! In Australia we don’t really have great Mexican food. In East LA I do late night runs to taco stands. There’s a place Loteria in the Farmers Market. You can just drive into East LA and find there are little caravans selling great Mexican food.
BATF: I read that you want to go back to Australia, is that true?
CS: I’ll never say never. I’ll always been open to it. I’d love to spend more time in both. My family’s all there. I miss my brother and his little boys and I miss my mum. I’d like to spend more time there than I am now. But I do love America too. I’m starting my own family here, so I love being in the States.
Let’s hope he decides to stay! At least the majority of the year, yes? Thanks again to Curtis Stone and Hotel Indigo for the interview!
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