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Curtis Stone gets back to basics

Success came early and strong for Curtis Stone. By his 20s, the Australian was cooking in London’s top restaurants. By 30, he’d made the jump to television.

But after almost a decade on shows including Bravo’s Top Chef Masters and Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice, some in the culinary world started questioning whether he’d spent too much time in front of the camera and not enough firing up a stove.

Now 39, Stone seems to have defied his skeptics. Last year, he opened Maude, a 25-seat Beverly Hills restaurant (named after his grandmother) that selects one seasonal ingredient per month to infuse into a nine-course meal. Reservations fill within hours of opening each month. Stone also has a new cookbook, Good Food, Good Life, dedicated to helping people treat home cooking less as a chore. He talked to The Associated Press about his work.

Why do you think more Australian chefs — like Donna Hay, who is often called the Martha Stewart of Australia — haven’t caught on in the U.S.?

Aussie chefs have traveled a bit more to the UK in the past. They have a pretty strong presence over there in London. But not so much over here in America. It’s a huge market, America, so I’m really not sure why there are not more Aussie chefs over here.

Was there anything you set out to prove by opening Maude?

I think there was certainly a big personal element to it. My life went from chasing Michelin stars at the age of 25 to doing TV shows in my 30s and writing cookbooks and stuff. Being [out of] that high-end, high-intensity kind of kitchen left me missing something. I’ve never really cared what people write about me, good or bad. If you live your life that way you’d probably get depressed pretty quickly. But there was certainly an element of missing the craft of cooking. And missing cooking at an elevated level. I also really missed the camaraderie of a tight little kitchen where everybody was mates and took care of one another.

What has been the most difficult ingredient to devise a nine-course meal with so far?

Winter squash wasn’t easy. Because you can’t really eat it raw. Nearly all the ingredients that we’ve used there’s at least a raw component. But winter squash, it’s a challenge. Even pickled it’s not super pleasant. And it also has a real residual sweetness to it. It’s hard to design a menu around sweet. That was a difficult one. But it was one of the more pleasurable ones to master. I think anything that is hard is a bit more fun.

How can busy at-home chefs find more pleasure in preparing a meal?

I think part of it is attitudinal. As soon as you say, “Cooking is a chore and I dislike it,” then it’s just that. It’s a chore and something you have to do to stay alive, but it’s not much fun. There are a million reasons not to cook. The first thing people say is, “It makes so much mess when you have your child in the kitchen.” But I say, “So does a sand pit. So does Play-Doh.” Build in an extra two minutes of cleaning time. Or even tell them to make a mess with you and then we’re going to clean it up together.

What did you learn from looking into the fridges of so many Americans on the TLC show “Take Home Chef”?

One of the first things people would say is, “Listen, I’m a terrible cook.” People’s confidence was not as high as it should have been. Teaching someone something as simple as how to hold a knife properly or how to cut an onion, you’d quickly learn with that little bit of confidence they’d soon, a few hours later, be showing their husband what they learned. It was really cool in that way. It showed me that with a little bit of confidence you can blossom people into really good cooks.

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