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Jeff Houck

The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.

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Curtis Stone Talks Cookware, Top Chef Masters [Aussie Comes Down To Brandon]

Posted Sep 26, 2012 by Jeff Houck

Updated Sep 26, 2012 at 10:51 PM

TOP CHEF MASTERS


Curtis Stone gets a variety of reactions when he makes public appearances like the one he did last week at Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in Brandon.

First, the women swoon. That’s a given, considering his chiseled looks, good humor and Australian accent. People magazine in 2006 named him one of the sexiest men alive.

Second, they ask about the various TV shows on which he has appeared. These days, most of the mentions include his hosting of “Top Chef Masters,” which airs on Bravo at 10 p.m. Wednesdays. They also ask about his first show, “Take Home Chef,” as well as his stints on “The Biggest Loser” and “Celebrity Apprentice.”

But they also ask cooking questions. Stone takes their comments into consideration when he designs his Curtis Stone Kitchen Solutions, be that the cutting board with the hole for scraps or the stainless steel can for easy countertop access to olive oil when cooking.

I had a chance to chat with Stone about his products and what it’s like being in the belly of the “TopChef” beast.

How did your cookware develop?

I started working on a show called “Take Home Chef,” … goodness, maybe about five or six years ago now. In that show, I’d have to cook in different people’s homes. I was thinking to myself, “I thought it was so much easier.” As a chef we cheat. You know, we’d make the sauce in the restaurant and bring that home and serve it. I just sort of thought the whole cooking experience for people is actually quite daunting. So we developed products to help people with problems they face at home. We sort of went about that developing interesting things that were innovative and actually changed the way you can cook. Everything from a cute stainless steel oil can you can keep on the counter so you don’t have to go searching for your olive oil every time you put a pan on the stove, right though to a cutting board with different sections and a hole that goes into the cutting board and a stainless steel drawer where you put your waste. We call it the Curtis Stone Kitchen Solutions line because it helps with the problems they encounter in the kitchen.

Cutting boardI see these celebrity products and I wonder sometimes if anyone who cooks has ever used them. I looked at your stuff, and you have that juicy cutting board that catches liquid from proteins. I sometimes use cutting boards and think whoever designed it must not have expected their proteins to be juicy.

We basically sat down and thought of all the things you face when you cook. The carving is a perfect example. You make a bloody mess and you also lose a lot of the flavor in the way of the juice. So we thought how can you figure that one out? The difference is when you go to these homeware shows and you look at the brands and you see celebrity chefs who endorse it or stick their name on it for a license fee. This is a totally different model. I actually own the company and design it all myself. We come from very humble beginnings, mate. We certainly aren’t a big player in the homewares industry but I think we’re making really unique, really nice stuff.

Even stuff like your pop-out muffin tin. Most home cooks aren’t pastry chefs. If you make a muffin and it sticks to the pan, you’re probably not going to want to make them again. The more you help someone, the more they’re going to want to cook.

Absolutely. You hit the nail right on the head. That comes from me not being a brilliant pastry chef myself. Too many times I’ve cooked something and thought, “I hope that comes out of the pan okay.” That’s one of those little fail-safes you know is going to work.

When you make appearances, what do you hear from people about their cooking stories?

It’s really fascinating, you know. I can remember working in restaurants and getting my little bit of joy out of people coming up and saying, “I just had the salmon dish and it was fabulous. Thanks so much.” Nowadays it’s a little different. You’re developing recipes and developing products that they’re taking home and cooking with and you do have a real impact on how they cook for their families. The home-cooked meal is so important. It’s how we communicate and conversate. Any time you get to help out is a good day.

Is there one item that sells more than others?

The oil can has just been a monster for us. Everybody loves it. It’s sold really, really well. It’s been really special to have a product like that that does so well. I love the workbench, the cutting board, because that’s where you spend so much of your time as a chef.

It’s made of bamboo, too. There are all these concerns about sustainable products now that you have to worry about that people like Emeril didn’t have to worry about 15 years ago when they were coming out with a product line.

Right, exactly. You’re absolutely right.

Can you get a gauge of how many fans are from your “Take Home Chef” work versus those who follow you on “Top Chef Masters” or from your books?

You hear different things from different people, of course. Everybody still thinks of “Take Home Chef” as their old favorite show in the middle of the afternoon. That’s sweet. I love that. We made 140 of them. It’s the show that introduced me to incredible cultures here in the states and developed product lines for me here. These days everyone loves “Top Chef Masters” and “Around the World in 80 Plates” got great reviews. It’s really interesting to see different people come up to me for different reasons. Some come up to me because I was on “The Biggest Loser” and worked with contestants on that show.

What is it like being in the belly of the “Top Chef” whale? It’s this mini universe unto itself.

It’s been amazing. “Top Chef” is a great show and the producers, Magical Elves, do a fantastic job. To be associated with such a great franchise. But to literally have a job where you’re eating food and watching the techniques of the best chefs in the country is just such a special bloody job. I feel really blessed to be allowed to do it. You’re constantly humbled by the skill these guys have and their passion for the industry. I think it’s done brilliant things for the industry as a whole.

Just seeing how someone like Patricia walked through a challenge, it gives them a whole different level of exposure than they normally would have.

Absolutely. This is a damn big country, America. There are so many big cities with so many great restaurants that it’s not easy for the guys here. After the Olympics I said to someone, “In a way, it’s kind of a bummer if you’re a gold medalist and you live in America because if you live in Australia or another country, there’s only five of you.” If you’re American, you come back with half a plane load. It’s the same with the chefs. There are so many great chefs in so many different parts of the country. That’s the beauty of Season 5. We’re able to shine a spotlight on many different people.

Have you watched a challenge and thought, “I’d really like to have a crack at that?”

It happens all the time. I sit down with the producers and help them come up with some of the challenges and ideas. When it comes time to watch, I’ve already got my little game plan down, so it’s fascinating to see different chefs take different approaches.

Presentation ringsBack to the cookware, has there been a point of frustration for you in the kitchen where a little light has gone on in your head and you thought, “We’ll make a product to tackle this problem.”

Totally. Always innovating and in the kitchen trying to solve different problems. It’s interesting because you walk into most kitchens and there are so many homemade devices and little alterations to existing products that chefs make. You can quite often get inspiration just wandering through a kitchen.

I remember that in the kitchen we used to go down to the hardware store and ask for some PVC pipe to be cut into lengths and use those lengths into rings. Those sort of became the rings that we sell now in the line that you can use to build little towers and things.




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