— Watch Field Trip With Curtis Stone 7.30pm Thursdays from 4 August on SBS Food and then on SBS On Demand. —
From mud crabbing with Indigenous elders in Australia to milking goats in Spain and being told to get a move on in the kitchen in Italy, when chef Curtis Stone goes globe-trotting in search of inspiration, there’s more than just food on the menu.
“Cuisine comes from a culture, its characters, the attitudes. It’s the soul of a place,” says Stone his of his trips to various corners of the world, on a mission to find inspiration for his restaurant menus.
The journey, captured in the series Field Trip with Curtis Stone, sees him making pizza and cooking pigeon in Italy, milking goats and drinking wine in Spain and being mobbed by a herd of goats in California. After each trip, he heads into his Los Angeles restaurant kitchen to make a dish inspired by his experiences.
If you’re looking for some armchair travel with the globe-trotting Australian-American chef, here’s what you can look forward to.
“Spend just 15 minutes in these hills and your mind gets flooded with these beautiful, romantic thoughts, ‘I could live here, I could bring the wife and kids and patrol the countryside with my flock and loyal dog. I could live the good life’,” Stone says of his visit to the magical mountains of Rioja, where he meets Guyo and Maria, a couple who produce a special cheese from the milk from their herd and tries his hand at milking a goat. Later, he forages for mushrooms with a Michelin-starred chef and uncorks a 60-year-old bottle of grenache from one of Rioja’s oldest wineries, Marques de Riscal, which is housed in a hyper-modern building designed by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry. There’s also a visit to an organic vineyard where the grandson of the founder is bringing back many of the old varieties that were in danger of disappearing, and a meal where the star is a dish made with a kind of red kidney bean that is only found in the local area, cooked for eight hours until rich and creamy. Back in LA, Stone cooks his own beans and mushroom dishes, inspired by his trip.
Stone describes his trip to the Lombardy region at the base of the Italian Alps as a week full of remarkable characters: “Each one more passionate than the last. All sharing a devotion to one single ingredient, or a method that shows an obsession.” There are some snowmobile adventures to build up an appetite, pizza making with the owner of a local pizzeria, a visit to a cheese cave at the home of a third-generation cheesemaker, Andrea Besi, and his wife Jane, and a lesson in making a gnocchi lacura, bread-based gnocchi local to the area. Stone also goes to a prestigious Franciacorta vineyard to pick up sparkling wine to pair with the decadent sturgeon caviar produced in the area, which he discovers in a visit to a local caviar business.
The Kimberley, Australia
A visit to northern Western Australia finds Curtis learning from an Aboriginal elder about Dreamtime stories and ancient fishing methods. “So, guys, if there’s one thing about the Aboriginal culture that you wish the world could understand, what would it be?” he asks Bundy, a village elder and Brian, a community leader, during his visit to the lands of the Bari people. “I guess understanding who we are, and how long we been around. And so, we’re based on stories. It’s the circle of life. Once you understand that, you are connected to the land. You belong to it, and you don’t learn that in school. You learn it out here on Country. Because you have to look after it. It’s yours. And once you take care of it, it feeds you,” Bundy says. Stone also finds himself herding cattle with a fifth-generation cattlewoman at Yarrie Station, a massive property in the Pilbara, meets Yarrie Station’s resident butcher, makes an outback steak tartare featuring some bush tomato and wattleseed, and back on the Kimberley coast, visits a pearl farm to discover a much-prized delicacy, pearl meat. “Producing the meat requires an unspoiled ecosystem, dependence upon the largest tropical tides in the world and years of hard work, which, in the end, yields a pretty small amount of meat. It is, in fact, a super rare delicacy,” he says, though even he is surprised to discover it sells for $200 a. Back in the kitchen, he’s inspired to create dishes using rock lobster, Australian finger lime and coconut milk; another beef tartare inspired by the outback; and a mango and lemon myrtle sorbet on a bed of coconut pearls, crowned with an Anzac-biscuit inspired wafer.
Central Coast, California, USA
This one is closer to home base, just a short drive north from Stone’s LA restaurant, Maude. “An absolutely amazing place to go when you’re looking for new ideas, and extraordinary ingredients. The Central Coast stretches from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and for a chef, it’s a bonanza. All the things that land and sea have to offer, an abundant agricultural wonderland right next to the Pacific,” he says. “… There are small farms and free-range animals, and a wide array of marine life. All things that, to me, are quintessential California.” This trip sees Stone visit Stepladder Ranch and Creamery, where top-notch small-batch cheese is made using milk from the farm’s Lamancha goat herd. Also on the menu on this trip: sea urchins, seaweed and a delicious pork dish cooked in an outdoor oven.
Amid the hills and mountains of the middle of Italy, Stone meets Francesco Urbani, a member of a family that’s been harvesting truffles for the past 165 years. Along with Fahara, a sommelier and long-time friend from back in Los Angeles, Stone heads out with Francesco and a trio of dogs on a truffle hunt. He also gets a lesson from a master of porchetta, and a visit to a small restaurant in the town of Montefalco where, Stone says, he recently had the best pigeon dish he’s had in his life. Can he keep up with super-fast chef Patricia (“Rapido! Veloce! Veloce!” she urges him) when she shows him how she makes the dish?
Margaret River, Australia
“It’s a place brimming with personality and full of adventure,” says Stone of his visit to this south-eastern corner of Australia, where he visits a grazier raising grass-fed Shorthorn cattle; fishes for marron with local chef Tony Howe; visits winemaker Vanya Cullen’s biodynamic vineyard; and forages for coastal herbs with another local chef, Paul ‘Yoda Iskov (“a walking, talking encyclopaedia” of wild food, Stone says). The former host of Surfing the Menu also finds time to catch some waves. Or try to: “I’d like to say I’m just really out of shape, but… I was never really a good surfer!” he laughs.
Field Trip is as much about people and traditions as it is about finding menu ideas, and anyone looking for some armchair travel, Stone’s travels are a great way to meet, eat, drink and share a few laughs.