'Field Trip With Curtis Stone' Inspires Menus at Maude

Stan Lee

The chef's new PBS series takes diners on a journey around the world and back to Beverly Hills.

If you ever wondered how chef Curtis Stone gets ideas for his menus at Maude, watch his new food and travel show. The six-episode Field Trip With Curtis Stone, which airs on local PBS stations beginning Monday, Oct. 7, follows the Australian-born chef and his culinary team through Italy, Spain, Australia and California's Central Coast, where they learn everything they can about a wine region and bring it back to Beverly Hills.

Since opening in 2014, the former Top Chef Masters host has created Maude's monthly tasting menus around one single ingredient: white asparagus or artichokes or corn. After five years, the chef and his team needed more inspiration and decided to switch gears and serve four wine-focused menus.

Rioja was one of the first areas to explore, with dishes such as clams with Valencia oranges and bell pepper; pan con tomate, the famous Spanish tomato-smeared bread; and aged bonito with carrots and pimento. The evening started with slivers of jamon Iberico served in a secret private room above the restaurant. It felt very Rioja via Beverly Hills. The current menu centers around Tuscany, and runs through the end of the year — white truffles abound — the last was Champagne in France.

"The show came about rather organically," says Stone. "When we started Maude, we'd take the team to a farm to learn about one ingredient. With whole regions, though, we can explore more ingredients, cooking styles and wine. A buddy of mine, a cinematographer, wanted to come along and shoot the action, and when he cut it together and showed me, it was beautiful. Very cinematic. So we're taking the audience along for research and development."

That "buddy" is Dave Gorn, cinematographer and camera operator for shows including The Mind of a Chef and A Moveable Feast With Fine Cooking. Stone was a host on the latter, traipsing through locales around California with other Michelin-starred chefs. But Field Trip looks and feels different.

"We didn't want to just go to restaurants and taste other people's food," says Gorn, who serves as director of photography and an executive producer for Field Trip. "We wanted to break it down into the components, the elements and the history of these places, all while meeting these amazing people along the way. We wanted to keep it as honest and authentic as possible."

Which means when Stone is on a snowmobile, Gorn is on the other, facing backwards, filming.

"In Australia, on an eight-seater bush plane, we land in the middle of nowhere, on a dirt runway," the cinematographer recalls. "Curtis gets out and walks over toward this man, we're all still on the plane. They kneel down and the man starts drawing in the dirt with a stick. Curtis gets back in and says, 'We were on the wrong runway. I got a map.' And he hands the pilot his phone with a photo of a map drawn in the dirt."

Adventure is only part of the equation. Field Trip viewers go on a journey to remote villages, on fishing boats, in cheesemakers' caves and vintners' cellars in far-off corners of the world. Families welcome them to get a real taste of regional cuisine, which serves as inspiration for menus at the restaurant. "I think in many ways the show is as much about the characters as it is food," says Stone.

Driving between his two restaurants, Maude in Beverly Hills and Gwen in Hollywood, the chef took a few minutes to talk with The Hollywood Reporter about his new series, food media, changing gears and taking everyone along for the ride.

You've done cooking shows and travel shows. You're always selling goods on Home Shopping Network. What gets you excited about using television as a medium for food?

Being a chef is a nurturing, and sometimes brutal, job. You work hard all day, someone comes and eats what you made, and if they enjoy it, they come back and say "well done." That's why we do what we do. If you drill down a little bit more, it's to create a special moment for someone. I think television is the same.

Did any other shows serve as inspiration for Field Trip, both in terms of content or production?

Tony [Anthony Bourdain] was a hero to so many shows, he really broke the mold. He did stuff that we all wanted to do but couldn't figure out how to do it. The shows that really focused on authenticity are what drove it home for me. The first show I did, Surfing the Menu, I traveled around Australia, I was 25 at the time. It was so interesting. You think you know a lot about mussels and then you meet a farmer and he's talking about the drought and the issues that arise, how it makes the mussels more intense in flavor. I had no idea that it was even a possibility. That's kind of what this is: Just us going somewhere and talking to people.

How did you and Dave Gorn come together for this?

We worked together on A Moveable Feast. But he's a total food lover, he's come in for all the menus at Maude. He gets into the story of the process, whether it's a winemaker, a cheesemaker. He's super nerdy like we are. We talk about food for hours. The way he shoots, he's done a lot of beautiful work in that Netflix-y streaming-type way. He shoots food really well.

Why did you decide to go to PBS? 

The landscape has changed so drastically. Only 10 years ago, you either tried to sell a project to maybe Bravo or the Food Network, but that was it. Now, with streaming and digital platforms having a much bigger and broader audience, there are a lot more opportunities. We shot the pilot, just a little bit of one of these trips. We basically decided to invest in it ourselves; it's our own production company, Sunny Side Up Productions. We didn't have a ton of time to shop it around. We spoke to PBS because we had that relationship with them. I've worked with Laurie Donnelly at WGBH for years, and she's been great. They really let you make the show with integrity. You get to make the show you want to make.

What media void are you filling with this show?

Reality cooking competition shows have been such a fixture for a long time. They serve a purpose. We turned food into a sport, like what can you do with these ingredients in 22 minutes? It's fun and entertaining, but there's not a ton of substance. So we set out to try and do something different that doesn't beat you over the head with information. Enlightening is a good word. You meet someone, find out why they do what they do. Why they work their butt off, choose to stand behind a stove or produce something fantastic. It's also about knowing where your food comes from. In Sonoma, we met an all-female crew on a fishing boat and got really interesting insight on catching king salmon and how to buy it, but also how they do their job.

How did you pick the regions?

We'd talk about what would make a fabulous menu at Maude, where could we go to be inspired. It's not that we're trying to show Piedmont and do it how they do. We try to interpret what we learned. It's about the culture and history, the nuances, so you can tell stories about the people and place through food. It's more fun when it's interpretive rather than just straight replication. We hope to take you to the region through ingredients and wines, all while you're sitting in a chair in Beverly Hills.

Other than ingredients, dishes and wines, what's one big lesson you brought back to Maude?

I think it's that sense of responsibility. When you're putting together a menu, you can do whatever you want. You can be light and creative. When you go to a place, you have so much respect for the people you meet. So we have this obligation to honor them through these dishes. We were in Umbria, and they're so intensely specific about seasonality and what goes with what. There's so much history and tradition. That storytelling became more important to us as chefs.

Can you give us an example?

When you get to meet the person who puts all of their time into something, it's special. For instance, you might have these romantic ideas of how people make cheese. In Rioja, there's a couple, who lives on a hillside in northern Spain; and off-camera, the wife was talking about her daughter who wants to be an attorney. She said, 'Why would she want to do that, when she could do this?' And she's so right! Why would she go to Madrid when she could live in these beautiful mountains!? I loved learning that story from the source.

Do the shows run at the same time as the menus in the restaurant?

We were just in Tuscany, and that menu starts in October, but the show will run later. Imagine if you could see a little sizzle reel, and then come to the restaurant and see what inspired this dish! My dream is that we could air the show before the menu, but with development, travel, production ... that's lofty.