Curtis Stone’s first job in Australia was at a butcher shop. So it’s no surprise that his new Hollywood restaurant Gwen includes a patio, an asador-style grill, two bars and — you guessed it — a meat market. “In America, of course, we’re more used to buying our meat and protein from the grocery store or supermarket. But at home, in Australia, we still have old butcher shops and that’s all they do,” Stone told Evan Kleiman in an interview for this week’s show. “It’s a real craft that’s on its way out there and, for the most part, there aren’t a lot of butcher shops here any more in Southern California.”
With Gwen, Stone is hoping to change that. He’s part of a small but vocal group of chefs and restaurateurs, including Michael Cimarusti (Cape Seafood & Provisions), Christian Pappanicholas and Francis Derby (The Cannibal), and Anya Fernald (Belcampo), who are championing the butcher shop of old.
KCRW “Good Food” Host Evan Kleiman: Was there a particular inspiration for your new restaurant?
Curtis Stone, chef-owner of Maude and Gwen: With the butcher shop, I thought to myself, ‘There’s something missing in Los Angeles: the availability of incredible meat for a consumer and a chef.’ I can’t tell you how much money I’ve spent with FedEx, shipping stuff over from the East Coast. Whether it’s game birds or rare breed pigs, it’s actually quite difficult to get your hands on great protein here. I thought, ‘What LA needs is a great butcher shop where you can have a wide variety of stuff.’ I guess the thing that I’ve manipulated slightly to what a normal butcher shop can do is that I have a restaurant attached to it. I can afford to buy rabbits and pheasants and guinea hens and things that don’t necessarily sell, as well as the more commodity stuff. I know that if I don’t sell them through the butcher shop, I’ll put them into a terrine or make a rillette or do something with them that I can serve at the restaurant.
EK: What is the flavor profile of Gwen?
CS: We’re calling it ‘primitive elegance.’ Primitive [in that] we’re curing our meat, we’re making our own salamis, prosciuttos. And then, of course, that butchery skill, that craft that is the dry aging and knowing how to find the right animals who’ve been bred and fed the way you want them to be and also processed in the correct manner for that optimum taste and texture you’re looking for. The butcher shop is our heart beat but then we also play with a more modern style of cooking.
EK: Are you bringing some products in from Australia to sell at the shop?
CS: We are. We’re working with a guy named David Blackmore who produces, in my humble opinion, the best Wagyu beef I’ve ever tasted. It’s a really interesting concept because he follows the Japanese concept of Wagyu, Wagyu being the breed of the cow. So he has 100 percent Wagyu, but he runs it on grass, which is quite different from how Kobe beef is being produced.
EK: Will the expertise of the chefs spill over to the advice given to consumers at the butcher shop?
CS: What we’ve managed to do here is have a chef-minded butcher shop where the chef and the butcher come together and say, ‘OK, this is the end result I want our guests to have when they take this stuff home and cook it.’ Then the butcher will say, ‘OK, we should cut it like this’ or ‘Do it like that.’ So you have a real collaboration between butcher and chef to be able to prepare the meat in the way that we think is best.
EK: It’s interesting to me that rabbit is such an important part of this mix of meats. Do you hope that you’re going to be the one that convinces Angelenos not only to eat rabbit in the restaurant but actually take rabbit home and try to cook it?
CS: Yeah, it’s funny because in Australia we grew up with rabbit. There’s actually a saying, it’s a joke. You say, ‘Thank you, Mother, for the rabbits,’ when you see an old friend because it’s what we did as kids. If you lived in a rural part of Australia, there were rabbits everywhere and of course they brought them over from England when they settled the country and they went crazy, these rabbits. They just bred and were everywhere. So it was a really easy protein source back in the day. It’s still something that’s really popular over there and having worked in Europe, it’s also something really popular over there. When you come to the States, you think, ‘Huh? where’s the rabbit?’ There’s no rabbit on any of the menus. It’s something I love. I know I’m not going to create a revolution in Los Angeles and turn it into the rabbit-eating capital of the world. But I want to supply it to those who are interested.