This is an extract from an article I wrote for The Caterer. You can read the full version by visiting thecaterer.com
An Aussie chef, who’s become a household name in the US for a TV show on which he picked people up in supermarkets and cooked their dinner, Curtis Stone seemed an unlikely candidate to open Los Angeles’ next top fine dining restaurant. But with Maude, his intimate 25-seat “passion project” in Beverly Hills, he has done just that.
Last month named Los Angeles’ best new restaurant in 2014 by LA Weekly and Restaurant of the Year by Eater LA, Maude presents a unique approach to its tasting menu only concept. For each month, Stone chooses a “seasonal hero”, a single ingredient that drives the entire menu, from first bites right through to desserts. “My hope is for my guests to leave loving and appreciating the ingredient and its extraordinary versatility,” the chef explains.
After starting his cooking career in Melbourne, Stone moved to London in the 1990s to work with his culinary idol, Marco Pierre White. He spent eight years with White, starting at the Grill Room at Café Royal, before moving to Mirabelle and finally being appointed head chef at Quo Vadis, where he gained three AA Rosettes. A move back to Australia, where he hit TV screens with a series called Surfing the Menu, saw him snapped up by US TV producers and over the last eight years, he has become one of the USA’s best known television chefs, who’s appeared on numerous shows, published books and launched his own cooking range.
But despite the fame and fortune, what Stone wanted most was to cook in his own restaurant and in February this year, he opened Maude. Named after his Australian grandmother, it pays homage to the woman who first inspired Stone to cook. Old Windsor chairs and antique plates and cutlery, meticulously sourced from flea markets, are nods to his granny’s style, while the open kitchen, blue leather banquettes and dark stone countertops add a contemporary touch.
The menu offers nine to ten courses with one seasonal ingredient creatively woven throughout. In July that ingredient was berries, in August it was corn, in September tomatoes, and in October it was pears. Come November, Stone will have moved on to truffles before concluding the year in December with winter squash.
“We change the menu completely every month. We have a structure to how it progresses but the actual dishes are totally different,” says Stone. Indeed his menu builds up, with each course becoming bigger than the previous one both in size and flavour, each featuring the special ingredient – sometimes as the star of the plate, and sometimes merely as a subtle garnish.
Last month’s pear-themed menu (priced $85 (£53), plus $55 (£32) with paired wines) began with a selection of snacks – oysters with pear granita, crispy chicken skins and pretzel with pear mustard – before the first course: a salad of pear and variations of beetroot, goat curd, goats cheese rolled in hay ash and hazelnut.
The salad was followed by a soup of pear and smoked celeriac, an ingredient not often found on California menus. “Celeriac is such a beautiful ingredient but it gets lost here,” Stone says. “We get it from the high desert, where there’ll be snow soon. That’s the beauty of the climate here: it’s so diverse.” The soup – served whipped from an iSi canister – beautifully combined the sweetness of the pear with the earthiness of the smoked celeriac. Extra texture came with celeriac crisps, while a garnish of wood sorrel foraged from Stone’s garden, added a note of citrus and freshness.
Building up to the heavier meat dishes, next up was a tuna crudo served with sweet and spicy kimchi with a subtle hint of pear, a forbidden rice cracker and seaweed; before the next course of pig’s head terrine. “That dish has definitely been influenced by my time with Marco,” Stone explains. “The utilisation of the cheaper cuts is not something LA diners are used to but it’s such beautiful meat.” The terrine was caramelised and served warm, with parsnip, parsnip toffee and raw pear. Next up was a guinea hen raviolo filled with a mousse made from the breast and confit of the leg, accompanied by a sweet pear cider sabayon, Swiss chard and a lightly pickled Tokyo turnip.
Onto puddings and a pre-dessert of cheesecake with raspberry coulis and pear ice cream set the tone for the main attraction: stout poached pear with roasted peanut foam, dark chocolate and panna cotta, a deliciously indulgent end to the meal.
“Maude is a passion project that gives me the creative fulfilment I had been craving,” concludes Stone. He has indeed returned to his fine dining roots and proved to even his fiercest critics that he’s not just a face off the TV. He can cook, too.
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