A matter of taste

A matter of taste

Television’s hottest chef Curtis Stone makes cooking seem like a cakewalk with his use of fresh produce. The star chef talks to Jaya Srivastava about his foray into the kitchen and his culinary tryst.

Talk of a chef who the ladies would love to take home and we have with us Curtis Stone. He has been hailed as a rather dapper looking young lad, and when it comes down to cooking, he’s an old hand. He is most popularly loved by the Indian foodies for his appearances as part-host, part-critic in AXN’s Top Chef Masters and the heroic rescuer of the lost maidens of the kitchen in TLC’s Take Home Chef. Recently, he stirred the world of Oprah (who he considers an inspiration to him) by joining O, The Oprah Magazine as a regular contributor.

An Aussie native, it didn’t take him long to sweep the world with his charm and pure passion for food. Today, Curtis Stone is one chef who isn’t only revered for the food he creates, but also for his constant endeavours for building respect and love for food in the hearts of many others. In the words of his mentor, the legendary Marco Pierre White, “Curtis has inspired people around the world to get into the kitchen, get cooking, while enriching their lives through his endeavours.”

The initial years

For Curtis, the love for food was rooted deep around his family during his childhood. “As a youngster, I loved to eat. I would enquire about what we’re eating and where it had come from. I would watch my mother and grandmother in the kitchen, we would joke around. I’d help them out. I started off on that track and it evolved more and more with time.” At that time, he was deeply inspired by his mother’s baking and his grandmother’s fudge.

Curtis was mid-way through business school, when on a trip to Europe, fate saw him enter professional kitchen. The stones he tripped on in Europe were part of the destiny he didn’t foresee at that time. It was then that he realised his fancy lay within the culinary world and not in the field of business.

In London, Curtis found his way through the kitchen of the legendary Marco Pierre White. Curtis spent the initial part of his career under the three-time Michelin-star-winning chef. He fondly remembers that back in the days, Marco was THE chef to work for. “I share a special relationship with Marco. He took me as a commie chef when I was 22. Within five years, I became the head chef at one of his restaurants. We worked ridiculously hard under him, and he appreciated people who worked hard and gave them opportunities. His absolute passion and love for beautiful food rubbed off on me.”

Curtis is a chef who has travelled the world over, cooked for different kinds of people and inspired them everywhere. One wonders how complex the cooking philosophy of a chef who has cooked for celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Donald Trump etc, might be. Yet, when you talk to Curtis about his food philosophy, he instantly says that the best way to prepare a meal is to keep it simple. It is as if he is in deep confluence with nature’s way when it comes to food. “I like to cook with naturally produced ingredients just as Mother Nature intended. I also like my food to be fun and approachable.”

In fact, love for natural, good food is something that Oprah and Curtis have shared mutually and bonded over.

On Indian food

In 2010, Curtis was in India to discover Indian food and culture. “We stayed for a couple of days in India and travelled to Jaipur, Mumbai and Agra. We tried the famous laal maas in Jaipur and it was absolutely gorgeous.”

Although he regrets not being able to venture down South since he loves South Indian cuisine, he points out that South Indian food is making a mark on the world map. “Even in Australia, idlis, dosas and appams are quite popular street foods. It was a shame that we couldn’t explore South India and its food back then.”

For Curtis, Indian food and culture exemplify a deep level of complexity. “The thing that stood out for me about Indian food and also its culture is just how layered it is.” On his stay in India, Curtis says that he was mesmerised by the amount of work, effort and time that goes into putting forth meals — that’s something he appreciated about home-cooked Indian food. “To serve a meal in India, people put so much effort and seven or eight things go into preparation — whether it is the pickles or dals or rice dishes and, of course, the curry preparations.”

Reminiscing about the food memories he had in India, he says, “What’s more is that all the separate dishes again have different layers to them — the varying blend of spices used, the green chillies and vinegar accompanying the onions and so forth. There’s so much love that goes into it.”

Talking about one aspect that according to him is the best feature of Indian food, he says, “I absolutely love the aroma of spices that accompanies the food. Even though it is time-consuming, attention to little things is what makes it shine.”

Having travelled the world over, Curtis believes that a common misconception that people have harboured over Indian food is how spicy it is. “You know, people around the world usually perceive Indian food as being quite spicy. And that is evident in the use of huge amounts of red chilies that go into preparation.

Not in India, but mostly around the world.” He considers it a shame because he believes that the level of hotness that accompanies Indian food, due to the use of a blend of varying spices, is largely misinterpreted. “You just cannot achieve that complexity by just elevating the use of one component.”

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