Last November, when Curtis Stone, chef-owner of the acclaimed Beverly Hills restaurant Maude, found himself zipping through Spain’s La Rioja wine region with his executive chef, Justin Hilbert, and wine director, Ben Aviram, it wasn’t for a Sideways-style guys trip. Their jam-packed itinerary of Michelin-starred restaurants, wineries, and tapas bars, was a search for inspiration.
The original concept for Maude, which opened in 2014, had been to highlight a single ingredient across 10 or so courses on a highly seasonal menu. But after nearly four years, 40 ingredients, and hundreds of dishes, Stone says the concept became more of a chore than a thrill. “I sort of figured, if it’s feeling tired for us, it’s going to feel even more so for the guests,” says the Melbourne-born Top Chef Masters host. “So let’s rethink it; let’s evolve it.”
Stone’s team decided to flip the focus from food to wine and reverse-engineer menus based on the greatest wine regions of the world. For the January relaunch, they chose La Rioja, and the highlights of the trip—along with the tastemakers whom Stone and his compatriots met—were directly incorporated into the menu. A home-cooked meal of caparrones (red bean and chorizo stew) with a maker of natural wine inspired the dish Dinner with Juan Carlos Sancha: Pigs Ear, Chorizo, Beans. A mushroom hunt with the chef of three-Michelin-starred Echaurren led to Foraging with Francis Paniego: Wild Mushroom, Juniper, Pine.
The three-month La Rioja run was followed by a menu that pays homage to the trio’s second research destination, Burgundy—or, as Stone puts it, “one of those godfathers of French cuisine.” A highlight on the new menu is the Escargot in Herb Butter, which came from a visit to one of the last remaining snail farmers in the region, Sylvain Peyrot. While most of France now sources cheaper snails from Eastern Europe, Stone recalls the farmer telling him of his commitment to tradition: “The reason I do it is because I love it, and I’ve been doing it forever. My kids are taking over the farm one day, and it’s super inspiring.” At Maude, the snails are paired with Bourgogne Aligoté La Charme aux Prêtres, from Burgundian winemaker Sylvain Pataille.
The Burgundy tribute runs through the end of June, and then it’ll be time to pick a new destination—and book tickets. “I think we’re definitely going to do something domestic,” Stone says. “We’re definitely going back to Europe, and I really want to take everyone to Australia.” But anywhere is game. “We’re learning a new way of doing something, and there’s something special about sitting down and drinking the wine from a region with the food cooked the way it’s cooked there, and doing that here. That’s pretty cool.”