For those who love to cook -- and for many who don't -- chef Curtis Stone whets appetites for inventive recipes and entertaining TV. An acclaimed restaurateur who is also a regular on programs such as Take Home Chef, Top Chef Masters, and the Today Show, Stone attracts a legion of hungry fans.
The garnish? Critics also love him. His Los Angeles restaurant Maude has earned industry accolades, ranking as a semifinalist in 2015 for Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation. His second restaurant, Gwen, which doubles as a butchery and market, opened in summer 2016 on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard and is already one of the city's most-buzzed-about destinations for celebrity and non-celebrity meat-lovers alike.
Stone, 41, recently brewed up a new reality series, too, and he's ready to dish. My Kitchen Rules made its debut in January on the Fox Network. He describes the show as "a bunch of celebrity couples who host parties in their homes and try to out-cook each other." Season one features comedian Andrew Dice Clay and his wife, Valerie; Lance Bass of *NSYNC fame and his mother; and singer Brandy and her husband, music producer Ray J, among other familiar faces. Stone lays out a culinary challenge to the teams, attends the resulting party, and then provides an honest critique. "It's head-to-head competition and pretty good drama," he promises. "You can imagine!"
'This Is What's for Dinner'
Stone's passion for food -- he's written six popular cookbooks, too -- is the ideal ingredient for his work with Feeding America (FA), the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization. He serves as a member of FA's board and has donated his time packing emergency food boxes for the organization's network of food pantries.
"I got involved with Feeding America when I started with The Biggest Loser," he says, referring to his appearance on the popular weight loss TV program. "In America, many of us worry about how we're going to realize our dreams. In other parts of the world and in parts of America, there are people who worry about how they're going to eat." Currently, 42 million Americans are classified as food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.
As a parent of two young sons (Hudson, 5, and Emerson, 2) with his wife, actor Lindsay Price, Stone sees up close the flip side of hunger: food waste, which is often the result of picky eating. While the chef suggests rotating the menu to constantly introduce new flavors to kids, many parents rue how much rejected food winds up down the garbage disposal in the process -- even as 13 million American children regularly go hungry.
To battle food waste at home, childhood nutritionist and registered dietitian Jill Castle recommends placing newly introduced dishes on communal plates. "Give your child a small serving from the plate, or even a single sprig of broccoli. Save the rest for yourself or others. Then set it out again at the next meal."
Stone does this, too. "I sometimes recycle a dish and put it back out when they next ask for something to eat," he says. "More often than not, when they're hungry they're open to trying new things."
His top priority, he says, is instilling in his children a love for healthy, nutritious food and the art of cooking. "Fatherhood changed me more than anything else," Stone says. "My whole life has been about making special moments with food. When you have a kid you worry more about their health than your own. I used to cook restaurant stuff at home. Now I think about them. I'm responsible for introducing them to good food. And I don't think we [as a society] do a brilliant job at this, generally speaking. So I have them gardening at home so I can teach them where food comes from and introduce them to all sorts of different things."
To that end, he enjoys taking his sons outside most mornings to pick fresh fruit from their backyard trees. "It's good fun," he says. After such excursions "they sit up on the kitchen counter, and they love pushing things into the juicer. They drink fresh fruit juices first thing."
He and his wife do face their occasional rebellions. "If they don't want to eat something, no problem," he says. "Don't force it. My attitude is: 'OK, fine. But this is what's for dinner.' They don't get anything in place of that."
Such an approach gets a thumbs-up from Castle. "Between the ages of 2 and 6, picky eating is a normal developmental rite of passage," she says. "I tell parents to expose children to a new vegetable or dish 15 or 20 times. Some kids need as many as 50. Don't pressure! Research shows that pressuring kids actually turns off their appetite. Tell your child he or she is free to smell it, lick it, even put it in his or her mouth and take it out. They don't have to eat it."
She adds this bit of wisdom to worried adults: "Don't tie emotions or pride or validity about being a good parent to food. Your job is to provide them with a balanced meal. Your kids' job is to try it. Don't 'rescue' them. If they know you'll swoop in with chicken nuggets, they'll go for that every time. Say: 'It's your choice whether you eat or not; it's your body. If you don't eat now, there will be breakfast in the morning.'"
Between owning and operating two busy restaurants, juggling the demands of a reality series, and playing the role of involved dad, does Stone have any downtime?
"No," he says with a laugh. "I don't have a second. I'm crazed. But I have fun doing what I do. Chilling out is not high on my priority list. One day ..." he trails off before quickly adding, "I used to work out, but I've fallen off a bit. In the kitchen you stay relatively fit, because it's intense work. It's how I get my cardio. And I keep telling Lindsay I'm gonna make a surfing comeback, something I used to do a lot of."
When he and Price first began dating 6 years ago Stone learned the hard way how quickly your health can take a downward turn. "I invited her to come to Australia," he recalls. "We were doing a brunch at my brother's house and she was going to meet my family for the first time. I felt so rough. By the time we got there I was in so much pain. I tried to tough it out, but eventually my beautiful new girlfriend decided to put me in a cab.
"She took me to the hospital where they told me my appendix had erupted. I had to have it extracted and was in the hospital for a few days. She still reminds me how she saved my life!"
And how does he reward such devotion? "She's a big lobster fan," he says. "I make her a bit of pasta with lots of chili oils -- she loves spicy foods -- with lobster and veg from our garden."
Like the handsome chef himself, a dish anyone could love.
Hunger in the U.S.
Stone's concern over the related issues of hunger and food waste in the U.S. inspires his support for Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization.
"Most people are surprised how pervasive hunger and poverty is in America," says Ross Fraser, FA's director of media relations. Some numbers:
- One in 7 Americans lives at or below the poverty line. But "poverty doesn't always equal food insecurity," Ross says. "Those who garden, hunt, and fish may have access to nutritional food even if they're poor. Middle- and even upper-class people may lose their jobs and suddenly can't pay [bills] or feed their kids. Joblessness can be a bigger driver of food insecurity than poverty."
- Food pantries help 1 in 7 Americans sometime during the year. Many pantries report that since the financial collapse of 2008, they continue to work at "disaster levels," Ross says.
- About 42 million Americans are classified as food insecure, with 13 million of them ages 18 or under.
- A recent FA survey connects food insecurity and poor nutrition to higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes among its food bank patrons.
Hungry to help? Ross advises you donate, advocate, and volunteer. "Funds are much more efficient than donating food," he says. "A single dollar provides the equivalent of 11 meals."