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When writing about a mildly famous (at least in some circles) man on a weekly basis (except when it gets bumped for WWD’s men’s summit coverage) it can’t always be about an actor, though it would be easy to go there. A chef, preferably one who is in New York, willing to talk about more than food, and has an iota of sexy chef appeal, would be a nice alternative. Unfortunately, The New York Times just did a big profile on Sam Talbot. Anthony Bourdain was in Macau. Then someone mentioned Curtis Stone, whose name didn’t ring a bell but whose face, it turned out, was all over the relentless NBC promos for “America’s Next Great Restaurant,” which he hosted with Bobby Flay and the guy who owns Chipotle. That was Stone’s eighth experience and counting with reality TV. Just last night he made his debut as the host of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.
It probably would have been amusing to have him make lasagna in my 20-square-foot kitchen, or shop for kale at the green market, or at least go to his favorite restaurant while he was in New York. Instead it was coffee in the general vicinity of 770 Broadway per his publicist’s request. I blanked and could only come up with Think on Mercer, which is a de facto NYU dining hall and was thusly packed with 20-year-olds bathed in the ambient light of their laptops, none of whom recognized Stone or mistook him for Ellen DeGeneres even though they dress alike — not a bad thing — and have the same hair cut.
Stone, 35, is bleach blond and Australian with the slightly exotic yet bright and sunny combination of tan, teeth and accent that has Magical Elves knocking on his door. Also, the producers of “Celebrity Apprentice,” on which he starred alongside Bret Michaels and Rod Blagojevich for season three. Before that there was “Take Home Chef” on TLC and “Surfing the Menu” back in Australia, both of which came after Stone was plucked by the media from Marco Pierre White’s kitchen in London, where he actually earned a Michelin Star — his badge of honor. If you thought Tom Colicchio was the master of reality cooking shows, you were wrong. Stone is everywhere. On “The Biggest Loser,” hosting the Miss USA Pageant, grilling shrimp and pouring Chardonnay for Hoda Kotb and Kathy Lee on the fourth hour of “Today.”
In the beginning, Stone was constantly positioned as the cutie with a way with a saucepan that housewives would love to invite into their home. That was, in fact, precisely the premise for “Take Home Chef,” his introduction to the American public, which ran in 2006 and 2007. He shot the pilot for the free flight to LA, which was in relative proximity to the 30th birthday party he was throwing for himself in Las Vegas, not thinking it would get picked up for 60 episodes. The idea was to approach a young, attractive woman in a supermarket and volunteer to help her cook dinner as a surprise for her husband. “Some guys turned around and walked right back out the door. Some guys were like, ‘Whoa! I get a chef to cook me dinner. How cool!’ Some guys were just happy there weren’t busted on ‘Cheaters.’ They’d walk into the house and see all these cameras pointed at them.” Stone says that nothing more than dinner prep ever happened with the women targeted on the show. “Most of them were married.”
Implicit in all this is that Stone owes his success more to how he looks more than the way he cooks. He doesn’t have his own restaurant, though he plans to open one this year in Los Angeles, where he lives with his girlfriend, but he does have a big business, which includes a test kitchen under the name Stone’s Cuisine, where he and a team of chefs pump out recipes for AOL and various food magazines. There’s also his line of kitchen utensils, a cookbook franchise, and a deal with midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee. In other words, he’s doing pretty well. Stone is self aware enough to know that some of his peers might be inclined to dismiss him as a pretty boy. “I kind of like that,” he says. “I really feel like we take ourselves too seriously, in general. Not just chefs, but chefs especially. We think we’re these f-----g gods and why? We’re someone that puts dinner on the table. If anyone’s a hero in the food industry, it’s the guy that works his ass off on a farm.”
Plus, it’s hard to take oneself seriously on the reality circuit. Stone was just in from the Bravo upfront in Los Angeles, where he met the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and New York, Patti Stanger from “Millionaire Matchmaker.” “An ensemble of weirdos in the nicest possible way,” he says. “You just can’t f-----g believe some situations you find yourself in.” Especially when it comes to the housewives. “They still do write reality shows,” explains Stone. “Like ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ for example, there’s a five-act breakdown that they set up. They know that if you take six people and tell them that they have to pick a leader and do this and do that, then there’s going be some level of conflict before lunchtime. But with the Housewives, it’s like they give them a glass of champagne and scream ‘Action!’ and watch it all evolve. Bizarre.”
Stone hasn’t met the women of Orange County, but he recently watched an episode in which one housewife hosted a Botox party. “They all came and got Botoxed,” says Stone. “Two of them had an argument so they thought it would be funny to bring a can of Mace, just in case. So she went and picked up two cans of pepper spray and gave one to her girlfriend and said, ‘You never know. We might need it.’ F--k me. I’m so normal.”