An early veteran of food shows reflects on the advice he gives the young and star-struck.
By Curtis Stone as told to Chris Mohney
Curtis Stone’s career began in his native Melbourne, Australia, where he joined the restaurant at the Savoy Hotel as a teenager. Relocating to London, he served in the trenches under Marco Pierre White at the Grill Room and elsewhere. Stone then got an early jump on the food media revolution, hosting a number of Australian shows before making it to Iron Chef and a seemingly endless series of guest appearances and headlining duties, all the way to various Top Chef incarnations and beyond. In 2014, he opened Maude restaurant in Los Angeles to widespread acclaim, including a Michelin star.
In our industry, it’s fucking hard. It’s a really hard job. I think the most important thing is to be pretty focused on what you want out of it.
What happens in our business a lot is people hit a bit of a wall. When you do that, you’re kind of like, “Well, what else is there? What else should I be doing? What’s a different road? Maybe I want to be involved in the media.” I’m not sure that’s the right strategy, because it’s very easy to get lost in it all.
The truth is our industry has grown substantially. When I came up cooking, you could be a chef in a restaurant, or a chef in a hotel, or maybe a cafe or food service or catering or whatever. But that was kind of it. And when you look at it now, there are private chefs everywhere. There’s people in the food media. There’s food stylists. There’s home economists. There’s recipe testers. It really has changed quite dramatically. Where we used to have a couple of tiers of restaurants, there’s now ten tiers.
So whenever I sit down with the kids—they’re all kids to me because they’re all in their 20s—you see them at that point, and they’re like, “I don’t know what I want.” I always say, “Go away and work on a ten-year plan, then a five-year plan, and then a two-year plan. But first you need that ten-year plan. What do you want in ten years? Do you want to be a restaurant owner? Do you want to be running a Four Seasons hotel somewhere? Do you want to be a dad? Do you want to be rich? Do you not care about money? Lay all of that out clearly in your mind and prioritize some of it. And then think about the craft that you’ve already gotten, and how you get to that point through your career.”
By contrast with the rest of the business, the TV space is so small. I’m always reluctant to tell people they should go after that. If you want to work in food media, not just TV, that’s cool, and there are lots of opportunities there. But to be the star of a show is a lofty goal. It’s a bit like winning the lottery. If there was a nice, easy path to it, there’d be a lot of people in line to punch that ticket.
The business has been really good to me though. Cooking’s made all my dreams come true. I’ve traveled the world, I’ve experienced amazing things. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to how passionate you are about what you do for a living. I love food. I really genuinely enjoy cooking for my family or developing a recipe that a home cook can follow. But I also really need to be able to exercise that muscle of real creativity and pushing myself in the kitchen till I’m exhausted. If I just have one or the other, I’m actually not satisfied. I’ve learned that over the years. I need both. Some people just need one. Some people cringe at the thought of one or the other, so that you should just go with your gut. It’s a very personal choice.
Someone asked me the other day, “If your kid said they wanted to be a chef, would you encourage it?” I had a really hard time answering because there’s a big part of me that’s like: No! It’s a really hard job, and there’s easier ways to make a living.
I’ve probably spent my life telling people that I’m going to slow down and retire, and deep down I know it’s bullshit because I’ve never been able to do it. If you took it all away from me and said, “Now you can relax,” I’d still find a way to complicate my life.