At the premiere party for the new “Top Chef” franchise spin-off, “Top Chef Duels,” we stole a few moments to speak with celebrity chef Curtis Stone. The Australian-born restaurant owner is both the host and a judge on this series, which premieres tonight at 10 on Bravo.
How does “Top Chef Duels” fit into the “Top Chef” franchise?
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It’s the best one yet! [Laughs] We take two chefs and put them head to head. It’s really quick— in 30 minutes there’s a winner and a loser, because there’s only two of them. It makes it really interesting; it’s you against me, right? Not, like, me against the other 10 people who are here. There’s no teams, you know, it’s very simple, very easy to understand. And I think instantly gratifying, because somebody wins 10 grand or they just got beat on national television.
The other thing that’s really cool about it is that we allow chefs to choose their own challenge, so they either choose something that’s going to play to their strengths or they choose something that’s going to play to their opponent’s weaknesses. Or some of them choose something that’s just funny. You know, you get a really good look into the person when you hear their challenge.
You’re hosting it and judging. Which is your favorite part?
Judging. I reluctantly say that because I never like to judge my peers, but I love eating the food of the chefs — they all impress me. I understand how hard it is to do a 30-minute cooking challenge, so I really respect them for even standing up and opening themselves to critique on national television. If somebody said to you, seriously, “Give me a piece of your work, I’m going to give it to an independent body who’s an expert, and they’re gonna either praise you or tear you a new asshole on national television,” you’d be like, “Oh! That’s my career, that’s my livelihood.” That’s what these guys do: They literally put themselves out there, and I really respect that and appreciate it. So as a judge, I hope that I’m kind enough and focus more on the positive than the negative.
Do the chefs do it for a chance at redemption?
Owning restaurants is a tough business, it really is. I have a tiny little restaurant in Beverly Hills, and we get to the end of each night, work our ass off, and I look at the numbers and I’m like “Why do we do it?!” It’s barely worth it. So when someone says to you “Come on a show, there’s a chance to win a lot of money,” you’re like, “Well, I could renovate the restaurant for that much cash.” You know, we’re a pretty competitive industry, it’s hard to make a profit. It can be really rewarding, but it can be really tough, too, so I think there’s that. [But] it’s an opportunity. With opportunities come great things, right?
If you’re going to challenge one of your fellow judges, which judge would it be? Would you pick a challenge that plays to your strengths or your opponent’s weaknesses?
Oh, good question. I’d challenge Hugh, who’s one of my fellow judges, because I can never say his name right. Acheson? I always used to [say it wrong] and he always picks me up on it, gives me shit about it. And I think it’s an accent thing, he thinks it’s a gaffe of the English language, so I’d choose Hugh because I want to embarrass him. And I know he’s incredibly good with the South. I think I’m more educated in a little more European, a little more French. [So I would go with that] and I think I would wipe the floor with him.
This one is just for fun: When are you going to talk someone into bringing Australia’s hit cooking competition, “My Kitchen Rules,” over to the U.S.?
That’s your job! It’s all up to you.
You’re right! Let me think about it.