Last November, when Curtis Stone, chef-owner of the acclaimed Beverly Hills restaurant Maude, found himself zipping through Spainu2019s La Rioja wine region with his executive chef, Justin Hilbert, and wine director, Ben Aviram, it wasnu2019t for a Sideways-style guys trip. Their jam-packed itinerary of Michelin-starred restaurants, wineries, and tapas bars, was a search for inspiration.u00a0u00a0
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. u201cI sort of figured, if itu2019s feeling tired for us, itu2019s going to feel even more so for the guests,u201d says the Melbourne-born Top Chef Masters host. u201cSo letu2019s rethink it; letu2019s evolve it.u201du00a0
Stoneu2019s 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 tripu2014along with the tastemakers whom Stone and his compatriots metu2014were 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 triou2019s second research destination, Burgundyu2014or, as Stone puts it, u201cone of those godfathers of French cuisine.u201d 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: u201cThe reason I do it is because I love it, and Iu2019ve been doing it forever. My kids are taking over the farm one day, and itu2019s super inspiring.u201d At Maude, the snails are paired with Bourgogne Aligotu00e9 La Charme aux Pru00eatres, from Burgundian winemaker Sylvain Pataille.
The Burgundy tribute runs through the end of June, and then itu2019ll be time to pick a new destinationu2014and book tickets. u201cI think weu2019re definitely going to do something domestic,u201d Stone says. u201cWeu2019re definitely going back to Europe, and I really want to take everyone to Australia.u201d But anywhere is game. u201cWeu2019re learning a new way of doing something, and thereu2019s something special about sitting down and drinking the wine from a region with the food cooked the way itu2019s cooked there, and doing that here. Thatu2019s pretty cool.u201d