Down Under up in the Valley
Chef Curtis Stone Sure to Rock Outback at the Alisal Ranch
Anybody-well, anybody blessed with good genes that add up to dreamy blue eyes, a roguish smile, a surfer’s build, and a tousled blond coif-can be named one of People magazine’s sexiest men alive. But it takes someone truly special to withstand-and even relish-learning under the withering stare of chef-ant terrible Marco Pierre White. Meet Curtis Stone, special guy.
Stone, who probably is best known in the States for his TLC series Take Home Chef, puts the Marco Pierre White experience this way: “He’s the most intimidating man I have ever met-the youngest chef to win three Michelin stars and the crankiest chef to walk the planet. But I’m a sucker for punishment, I guess. He gave me an incredible education in food and the work ethic I have today.”
That education in food will be on full display when Curtis Stone creates a special wine-pairing dinner as just one part of the upcoming Outback at the Alisal extravaganza, happening September 17-20. Turns out the luxurious Alisal shares a PR firm with the South Australian Tourism Commission, so a wonderful weekend was born. “Given the similarities of South Australia and the Santa Ynez Valley, we have created this event in hopes that it will give our guests a unique opportunity to experience the adventure of the ranch as well as the wonderful foods and wines of both regions,” said Stormie Strickland, sales manager at the Alisal. That means there’s a taste-off between syrahs and shirazes, Australian barbecue and American barbecue, and more. Even Stone said, “The event sounds like so much bloody fun I might stay through the whole weekend.”
Stone couldn’t give much of a hint as to his special meal’s menu because he’s just beginning to hear from the Alisal kitchen about what produce will be on hand, explaining, “I like to work with produce that’s local and in season and put the rest together from that.” As for what to expect from Australian cuisine, he said, “We have a culture that is antiauthoritarian, so we like to break the rules in our culture and our cuisine as well.” That said, he clearly was pleased that all the cultural influences on Australia, from the Europeans who settled there to the relatively geographic proximity of Southeast Asia, led to a large palette of flavors and food stuffs.
Although born in Melbourne, Australia, it was in England where Stone developed his cooking chops, working with Marco Pierre White at both Mirabelle and Quo Vadis. While he claims, “I never imagined myself on television,” Stone got a call from an agent after he was featured in the book London on a Plate, and soon was on morning television programs. “And that turned into a show and that turned into a show,” he explained. “When you’re in a restaurant, you’re honing in on perfection with each plate. It’s about improving your technique. And then there’s managing a big staff if you’re in charge. On TV, you don’t get to do things more than once or twice, and the premium is coming up with new ideas all the time. I’ve developed so many recipes-hundreds and hundreds of recipes.”
While few of us will ever get the chance to bring home the actual Curtis Stone, as is the standard setup on his Take Home Chef show, he currently is offering “the Curtis Stone Range of Kitchen Solutions” on his Web site (curtisstone.com)-everything from measuring cups to presentation rings. He developed the line after discovering during the taping of Chef that many folks would only own “a blunt knife and a small cutting board,” he recalled. “My line leads to an easier flow in the kitchen, helping to bring confidence to cooks and happiness to the diner.” He discussed, as a for-instance, his cutting board that has a drawer in which to dump carrot or potato peels and indentations into which you can place measuring cups (the ones he sells fit perfectly) so that you can scoop chopped items with ease. He concluded, “It makes the mise en place much simpler.”
Given his focus on ease, it’s not surprising that his latest cookbook is titled Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone. “The more relaxed you are in the kitchen, the more fun you’ll have at dinner later on,” he insisted. “If you make the cooking seem like too much of a bother, it seems as if you want to make the people you prepare a meal for feel guilty.”
Or even better, enjoy a splurge-y, guilty pleasure and have Stone cook for you at Outback at the Alisal.
Outback at the Alisal, featuring Chef Curtis Stone, is September 17-20 at the Santa Ynez Valley’s Alisal Ranch. Call (800) 4-ALISAL or 688-6411, or see alisal.com.