- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) - 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 nearly 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. In a city filled with big-name restaurants, it’s been a hit: Reservations fill within hours of opening each month. Stone also has a new cookbook, “Good Food, Good Life,” which is dedicated to helping people treat home cooking less as a chore and more as a joy.

Stone recently spoke with AP about life on and off television in Los Angeles with his wife and two young sons. (Edited for length and clarity.)

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AP: 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.?

Stone: Good question. 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. My American friends are all associates who do travel to Australia. The general consensus is they really love the food. They’re impressed with that food scene. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be doing better in America.

AP: After so many years focused on TV, some critics questioned your credentials as a chef. Was there anything you set out to prove by opening Maude?

Stone: 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. I missed that and wanted that back again.

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

Stone: 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.

AP: Your new cookbook emphasizes joy in cooking. How do you think busy at-home chefs with hectic schedules can find more pleasure in preparing a meal?

Stone: 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. I think if there’s a way to stop it from being a chore and start becoming a bit of fun, whether it’s just taking a bit more pride in what you do, with just cooking for your family, there’s that.

AP: The TV show “Take Home Chef” (on TLC) took you inside U.S. homes. What did you learn from looking into the fridges of so many Americans?

Stone: Lots. 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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ROASTED SALMON AND BEETS WITH HERB VINAIGRETTE

The beets for this recipe must be very thinly sliced. The best tool is the mandoline, but a food processor fitted with a slicing blade also works.

Start to finish: 45 minutes (20 minutes active)

Servings: 4

4 medium beets, preferably golden (1 pound total), scrubbed and very thinly sliced lengthwise

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1 1/2-pound skinless salmon fillet (from the head end)

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1/4 cup lemon juice

4 cups mixed baby greens

Heat the oven to 450 F.

On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the beets with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange the beets in the center of the baking sheet, forming a bed large enough to hold the salmon. Roast the beets for about 15 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Remove the baking sheet from the oven.

Place the salmon on top of the beets. Brush the salmon with 1/2 tablespoon of the oil and season with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, mix the chives, parsley and tarragon. Sprinkle all but 1 tablespoon of the herbs over the salmon. Roast the salmon for about 15 minutes, or until cooked to medium- rare doneness. It should still be slightly rosy at the center. Remove from the oven.

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil, the shallots, lemon zest and juice into the remaining mixed herbs. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.

Toss the mixed greens with 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Drizzle the remaining dressing over and around the salmon and beets and serve the greens alongside.

Nutrition information per serving: 840 calories; 350 calories from fat (42 percent of total calories); 40 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 265 mg cholesterol; 15 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 106 g protein; 400 mg sodium.

(Recipe adapted from Curtis Stone’s “Good Food, Good Life,” Ballantine Books, 2015)

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