Chefs Cat Cora and Curtis Stone, hosts of Around the World in 80 Plates
Curtis, can you talk about what surprised you most about how some chefs worked without certain ingredients and how they were able to adapt?
Curtis Stone: When I’m asked to develop recipes, which we do on a daily basis, it’s almost so much easier for us when someone says, "We want you to do a recipe with sea bass." Straight away your mind goes to sea bass and you start playing. And then we put some other parameters around that, whether it’s springtime [for example], so there are the other ingredients you can use.
And I actually found it really interesting watching the contestants be told sometimes they got this exceptional ingredient which made it much more obvious for them in terms of their thinking. And other times they were told they couldn’t use an ingredient. I think in really obvious stuff, like in London the contestant that didn’t win the exceptional ingredient couldn’t use potatoes in their recipe. So then, of course, that makes cooking fish and chips and steak and kidney pie with mash pretty difficult.
Cat Cora: Well, because they did come with such a varied range of skills I think it was really trying to figure out who was going to lead, what the strategy was going to be and multitasking. But also there was a language barrier in a lot of countries. There were a few who could speak multiple languages and there were many who couldn’t. So those were definitely some roadblocks that they ran into.
But I think some of the street smart chefs had some of the skills to get through the cities a little quicker, so you could tell the difference between some of the chefs who were trained in the school of hard knocks and had more street smarts when it came to some of the tasks. Like I was saying, getting through the cities versus some of the more formally trained chefs. And I think really it came down to strategy. We had a guy (Nookie) who's a chef for the Red Sox. So, this guy is from, the streets and he definitely was able to maneuver a lot. And we had several contestants like that. So that was really interesting to see and watch, throughout the show.
What was your favorite destination on the trip?
Cat Cora : That’s a hard one. I’m in love with the Thai people and the Thai food and Thailand and I’ve said that over and over, although Morocco was pretty amazing as well.
Curtis Stone: I loved Buenos Aires as well just for the culture and the beauty and it was a real eye opener for me, Buenos Aires and the way they cook. They cook on these grills called parillas and then they cook Asador style which is like these guys that have been cooking on these grill pits for their entire life and they’re just so skilled. It was really special.
If you could be eating anything anywhere in the world right now what would it be?
Cat Cora: Oh, I know — right now I’d love to be sitting on a Greek island somewhere, because of being Greek American, and eating a great octopus salad - a grilled octopus salad and some fantastic lamb. And sipping a little Ouzo.
Curtis Stone: I don’t know — I’d go back to Bologna in a heartbeat, Cat, and eat that truffle salad that we had late night at that place. That little trattoria with the poached egg and the white truffles.
Was there a place you’d like to see on the show that you didn’t get the chance?
Curtis Stone: Well I really want to go to Japan. It’s the one place that I’ve never been to and they just have such a rich food culture. And I had my fingers crossed for it. You know, as you can imagine, there’s just so many great culinary destinations throughout the world and there’s so much diversity. And whether it’s Eastern Europe or Western Europe or, the Middle East or Africa, you name it and it’s just - it’s exciting. But Japan’s one place that I’d just love to see.
Cat Cora: I’m with you on that. I think that would be amazing. Yeah.
So as hosts did you get to taste the dishes that the chefs prepared or was that a job left to the judges?
Curtis Stone: Hell yeah.
Cat Cora: Oh yeah. We ate.
Curtis Stone: I wouldn’t have signed up for it if they didn’t let us eat it.
Cat Cora: Oh yeah. We tasted everything. Nothing slipped past us.
Cat Cora: Yeah. For me growing up, as a Greek American, I think the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest that you could possibly have, with the fresh, fresh produce, lots of nuts, vegetables, fruits, fresh fish, lean meats, things like that, yogurt. Lots of really great olive oils, I mean artichokes, things like that, olives, things that we grew up with. To me that’s an extremely wonderful diet and cuisine and very healthy. So I definitely look at the Mediterranean diet, especially along the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, where there’s lots of fresh fish, a lot of sun foods, things like tomatoes, eggplants, lots of those types of vegetables growing and fruits that are very healthy.
Curtis Stone: All of that's sort
of fun and interesting how people depict healthy. And I think the more fresh, naturally grown ingredients the better and that sort of constitutes health for me. And
when you look at what they cook with in Southeast Asia, we’re talking about Thailand so let’s choose that. They use all
sorts of fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds and fish and different proteins. So those
green papaya salads and the curries are so good for you. I love that green papaya
salads are just fantastic and we ate some beautiful ones while were in Thailand.
I love those red curries and green curries that they make. You hear those mortar and pestles. You walk through the streets in Thailand and you hear those mortar and pestles like a daily ritual. You know, there’s the clunking of the ginger and ylang-ylang and chili peppers and all of those delicious spices that they grind up. And then they incorporate that through both their stir fries and all their curries and a little bit of light coconut milk. And the curries feel very light in Thailand. So those jungle curries are great with a spicy peppercorn. It’s so good.
Do you have any strategies or tips for people who are traveling and wanting to explore new dishes and try new foods?
Curtis Stone: I think a really good place to start is a local market because you can wander around the market and get a feel for the culture. You get to read a lot of - you see a lot of ingredients with the names of the ingredients just above it, with the price so then you can sort of associate - especially if you don’t speak the language you can associate certain ingredients. You’re like, okay, tomatoes, I know that and I’d be able to look out for that when I’m in a restaurant. And also to speak to some of those street vendors and ask them where their favorite places to eat are. You know, you start off with some street food and then find out what the locals think. That’s always the best way to go.
Cat Cora: Yeah. I’d have to agree. I always talk to the locals, whether it’s a local driver or a guide. I tend to stay away from the hotel concierge; that's kind of my last choice especially in a lot of foreign countries just because they tend to send tourists to tourist destinations. So it’s really talking to people on the street, it’s really, where I go first. And I agree with Curtis. It’s just looking around and seeing; if you keep seeing something over and over and it’s familiar, that seems like it’s typical local food.
The show is a competition. But have you guys witnessed a lot of the drama going on between the chefs or was it pretty nice?
Cat Cora: Oh no.
Curtis Stone: It was pretty much a love/hate relationship right there.
Cat Cora: Oh yeah, definitely, from the very beginning down to the first elimination. These chefs wanted to be in a competition. You know, they were chosen. They wanted to move on. And they absolutely were going to fight for that role and that position. And obviously it gets a little more tense as it goes along - or a lot more tense I should say. So yeah, we definitely witnessed some strategy.
So without revealing too much can you tell me which country may have presented the biggest challenge to both the contestants and you guys?
Curtis Stone: Strangely I think London presented the really big challenge.
Cat Cora: I think London was really a big challenge for them. I think as they’re trying to find their footing, and the food in England and particularly the gastro pubs and this new style of food that’s happening in London, it’s a little bit new to us, it was challenging for them. And the different ingredients.
Curtis Stone: But then, I think back to Morocco, Cat, when the guys were in Marrakesh and they were trying to run through the market and there were the monkeys. And snakes. And people hitting them.
Curtis, you’ve done so many things, including Take Home Chef, Celebrity Apprentice, Top Chef Masters — how does the experience of Around the World in 80 Plates compare to that?
Curtis Stone: It’s really hard to stack another show up next to it. You know, when I was very young I got my first opportunity in television with a show called Surfing the Menu and it was myself and another guy; we traveled around Australia and we surfed and cooked and drank too much wine. And we had a lot of fun. And I’d always dreamt about getting another show that was a little bit similar to that. And, when this show raised its head I was of course super excited about it because it was travel and the incredible experiences that you get to see and face.And then when they announced Cat as the co-host of it I was just blown away because she’s just like me, an absolute foodie and, we share a lot of common interests. And it was just the dream job. I can’t explain it in any other way.
You know, we literally went to ten different countries and ate some unbelievable food. And I wasn’t joking when I said Cat and I were riding elephants in Thailand. You know, we’d get a little bit of time off here and there and we’d run around in adventure like two little kids. It was so much fun.
Around the World in 80 Plates premieres Wednesday, May 9.