Curtis Stone’s New Maude Menu Pays Homage to Rioja's Foraged Bounty
Previously, Maude was a restaurant that focused on one specific ingredient for a tasting menu that changed every month. Maude is now turning into a restaurant that changes its menu four times a year. For the next year, Maude will showcase the cuisine of four different wine regions. (Future menus are still to be determined.)
To research the first menu for Maude 2.0, Stone, executive chef Justin Hilbert and director of operations and wine Ben Aviram took a whirlwind November trip to Rioja, where they visited restaurants, butcher shops, produce markets, wineries and wine shops. It was chilly and rainy during their trip, and they got muddy one day when they foraged for mushrooms. They ate a lot of cold-weather food.
What was especially striking to Stone was how Rioja blends the old-school and the avant-garde.
“Spain’s always such an interesting place to me,” says Stone, who got married in Majorca. “And there’s nowhere stronger than Rioja in terms of how it’s always been a place of contrast.”
Rioja is where Stone met chef Francis Paniego, who embraces modernist technique at two-Michelin-starred Echaurren but who also makes croquetas with a recipe from his mother. Rioja is where Stone visited Marqués de Riscal, a winery that dates back to 1858 but has undergone a thoroughly modern Frank Gehry makeover that includes a five-star hotel.
For Maude’s seven-course Rioja menu, Hilbert, who once staged at Mugaritz in Spain and worked at WD-50 in New York, is offering modernist takes on tapas like pan con tomate and croquetas. Beyond that, guests can dip crusty bread into a bowl of mahogany clams with sofrito and a little California citrus. There’s a dish of lightly grilled and roasted vegetables, like asparagus, peppers and leeks, with wild herbs. This dish, inspired by the garden at Rioja’s Venta Moncalvillo restaurant, will evolve based on what’s in season at the farmers market.
There’s also a dish known as Foraging With Francis Paniego.
“We went foraging and found some unbelievable wild mushrooms,” Stone says. “This dish is going to feel quite winter-y.”
Maude’s dish features wild mushrooms, juniper and pine, and Hilbert wants to simulate the experience of the cold and rainy day he went foraging in Rioja. Maude is serving California and Pacific Northwest mushrooms, but Hilbert is using some tricks involving smoke to create the effect of a misty Spain day.
“The week we were in Spain was unseasonably cold,” Hilbert says. “It was like in the 40s. We were up on this beautiful hill, and it was rainy and super misty, and I was really into it. It was the first time we had gotten out into nature after three days in wineries. I just started walking and left the group. I was just finding mushrooms everywhere, and also wildflowers and juniper. I had so many mushrooms I couldn’t hold them in my hands. I had to take my coat off and make a basket with my coat.”
So Hilbert is offering a variety of mushrooms, like maitake, hedgehog, trumpet, yellowfoot and chanterelle, to evoke the bounty he found in Spain.
Another highlight of Maude’s Rioja menu is a pork-and-beans dish called Dinner with Juan Carlos Sancha. Sancha, a renowned winemaker, invited the Maude team to his house.
“He had this giant pot of beans with pig tails and pig ears and tons of chorizo cooking on the stove,” Hilbert says. “It smelled so good. It’s freezing, and we’ve been walking around in mud. We were supposed to have lunch at 1, but didn’t eat until 4 in the afternoon.”
Hilbert, as you might have guessed, was really hungry and ended up eating a lot of beans. At Maude, he’s serving a pig ear, chorizo and beans dish with skull stock, crispy pig bits, chorizo paste and rosemary flower.
“I’m going to make it more fine dining with Iberian ham jelly on top,” Hilbert says. “It’s a super rich dish but only three or four bites.”
The centerpiece of Maude’s Rioja menu is chuletón, a wood-fired large-format steak served with a tortilla. The Maude team ate lots of steak at Rioja restaurants. One restaurant, Alameda, served a cut from Galicia that rocked their world. Hilbert has been working with Oakland supplier Cream & Co., which has options including eight-year-old dairy cows and barley-and-rye-finished beef, to find the right mix of fat and funk. Hilbert’s cooking the meat hard and fast, like they do in Spain.
“I kind of have a whole crazy hibachi setup with almond wood,” Hilbert says. “We decided that building a brick fire on one of our stoves wouldn’t be safe.”
Charring steak this way and then just cutting into it without letting it rest, Stone says, is something that’s quite different than how he makes steak at his meat-centric restaurant Gwen. He would scream and curse at the cooks there if they prepared meat like that, but he appreciates how Spanish chefs do things differently with open fire. So Hilbert is going to make a steak black and blue on purpose.
That’s one fun thing about what Maude is doing: This kind of menu allows Stone and Hilbert to both riff and replicate as they see fit.
“We want to go to these regions and use them as inspiration,” Stone says. “Sometimes, that will be really literal because we found something magical. Other times, it will be super abstract and a million miles from where we actually were.”
When he was in Rioja, Stone repeatedly noticed that Spanish chefs have a less “balanced attitude” about food. In L.A., Stone thinks about serving a meal with vegetables and meats and grains. Over in Rioja, it was more like, it’s cold, so let’s eat hearty food. Hilbert remembers a 30-plus-course meal at Echaurren that was heavily offal-focused. Maude isn’t taking things to that level of extreme, but the influences are there.
“It felt like winter when we were in Rioja,” Stone says. “It’s going to be a rich menu. That’s one of the things I love about Europe. They sort of only do what makes sense.”
Maude, 212 S. Beverly Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-859-3418