If you watch food TV, you know Curtis Stone. He’s currently the host of Top Chef Masters, but you may have caught him on America’s Next Great Restaurant, Around the World in 80 Plates, Take Home Chef, or any one of the fourteen thousand* shows on which he’s appeared (*possible slight exaggeration). No matter how good he is on TV, the strapping Australian also happens to be an actual chef and a damn good one at that. His first restaurant, Maude in Beverly Hills, CA, is exactly the type of place every great chef dreams of: tiny and intimate with a set tasting menu dictated completely by Stone himself. The twist is that every month, he’ll be focusing on a different ingredient as a theme. This month (February) centers around citrus, while March is already slated to be an artichoke-laden feast.
Before dining at Maude last week, I sat down with Curtis to find out how he felt about the food he loves to eat during his many, many travels.
What’s the best airplane meal you’ve ever had in your life?
Believe it or not, it was a piece of fish that was served on Qantas. I was lucky enough to be flying Business Class, maybe even First. They might have bumped me up. I’ve never bought a ticket to First Class, but they might have bumped me up. What was it? I think it was a curry. Neil Perry does the food on Qantas and it was bloody brilliant. I remember thinking, “Holy shit! How did they do this up here?” Really spicy. Like a jungle curry or something like that? It was a piece of – I can’t remember exactly what it was but it felt a bit like a seabass, a Chilean seabass, covered in this sort of curry sauce, some papadums, some rice. Just a perfect up-in-the-air meal.
Do you have a favorite airline to fly in terms of food?
Qantas. I think they do a good job.
In the world? Abu Dhabi. It’s like a city unto itself. It’s pretty amazing. Just the shopping and the amenities. It’s just gorgeous. It’s like the lap of luxury. It’s like checking into a resort. The longer you layover the better.
Do you hang out in airport lounges when you fly? Have you ever had a great food experience in a lounge?
With Thai Airways, I once stopped in Bangkok. First of all, you get a massage in the lounge, which makes you happy regardless of what they serve. They had this beautiful little satay cart that came around and they were literally cooking the satays on the cart. Yeah, that was pretty special.
If you were making your own airline meal, what are you serving?
I did it for a heartbeat – for United, two or three years ago. I did braised short rib. I did a Chinese chicken salad first of all, which was delicious. You need a meaty piece of fish or a soft, braised piece of meat because essentially you’re just reheating up there. You don’t ever really want to reheat a filet or something that’s going to dry out like a rack of lamb or whatever. You want it to be a soft, braised, juicy piece of meat. Something rich and saucy. Something that falls apart with a fork. So we did that. I thought that was the best option at the time.
Do you still feel that way?
Yeah. I analyze it every time I go up there. Nothing that dries out works in the air. Of course, that’s what people think of. A hamburger? Disgusting in the air. Any kind of sandwich. I fly a lot. I’ve got a couple million frequent flyer points.
Do you have status on a particular airline?
I do. Yeah. I travel a lot. I still work in Australia, so I probably do eight trips a year to Oz. I probably do ten trips a year to New York. I work with HSN, so I probably do eight trips a year to Florida. I go to Europe at least once a year. I go to Asia a couple of times a year. I’ve done a lot of travel in my life. So I’m Chairman’s Lounge with Qantas. Executive Platinum with American. With United, I have – I don’t fly United as much anymore. I had Global… what’s it called? [ed.: Premier 1K]
Any parting thoughts on flying and food?
In America, we don’t get treated as well as we should domestically. Let’s put it that way: I think comparatively speaking, if you look at domestic air travel in America, it’s behind domestic air travel in other countries. Which is a bummer.