Curtis Stone confesses that as a young chef, his work schedule was “crazy” — to put it mildly. In his 20s, while honing his craft at top London restaurants, when he wasn’t in the kitchen, Stone was partying through the night. Now, the Australian-born chef, author, TV personality, and entrepreneur lives a more balanced life — touting sleep, family. and well-being as keys to his multifaceted success. Stone, 43, served as head judge on Top Chef Masters and Top Chef Junior and is the author of the best selling books What’s For Dinner? and Good Food, Good Life. He runs two LA restaurants: Gwen and the Michelin-starred Maude, (both named after his grandmothers). Stone and his wife, actor Lindsay Price, are parents of sons, Hudson, 7, and Emerson, 4.
In his Thrive Spotlight, Stone opens up about developing a thriving workplace culture for his staff, his tried-and-tested tips for better sleep, and how fatherhood shifted his priorities.
Thrive Global: You have a demanding career. How do you make sure your well-being doesn’t suffer?
Curtis Stone: I would be lying if I told you I had all the answers! I do have a pretty incredible schedule. I’ve never minded how many hours I’ve put in, though, because if your work is your passion, it doesn’t feel like hard work. But now I know how important it is to sleep. Being a dad and a husband, you need energy.
TG: Restaurant kitchens are notoriously hectic places to work. How do you approach well-being with your staffs?
CS: We encourage everyone to go right home after work and get some rest, and a good night’s sleep. In fact, when we interview people, we want to make sure that not only are they super passionate about cooking and learning, but also that they’re not party animals. We work long hours, it’s certainly not a 9-to-5 job, but we’re not pulling 90 hour weeks. We stick to a 12-hour policy so no one’s back within 12 hours of their last shift. That gives everyone seven or eight hours of sleep, plus wind-down time. This is a demanding industry, but it doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself!
TG: How have you built a workplace culture that encourages your team to thrive?
CS: We take our culture seriously. It’s about nurturing and caring for each other. As a company, we eat together and make a real effort with what we call “family meals.” At 4 o’clock everyone has to stop what they are doing and sit down for a delicious dinner. It’s not an option.
TG: As a young chef, working for the legendary Marco Pierre White’s Michelin starred London restaurant, Quo Vadis, were you sleep-deprived?
CS: If I’m being honest, when I lived in London I used to burn the candle at both ends. We didn’t get nearly enough sleep, work was super intense — and I absolutely loved it. We would do 17, 18 hour days in the kitchen. People say, ‘Oh, you should never have been treated like that.’ I’m like, ‘Are you crazy? There was a line of people who wanted my job.’ I was lucky to have that job. We would leave the kitchen, and go out as a team and stay up all night, drinking. We used to work like crazy and we partied hard, but I think that stuff quickly catches up with you. I saw a lot of people burn out.
TG: What changed for you?
CS: Maybe I was lucky, because I got involved in the media, doing TV, so there was a shift. I wasn’t trying to work at that intensity in the kitchen for 30 or 40 years. Also, fatherhood made me re-look at my life and figure out a way to have quality of life and sleep.
TG: What is your evening routine?
CS: I come home earlier, I don’t stay until the very end of the night like I used to. I’ll jump in the car, and I’ll call my mother in Australia or I will talk to my business partner, who’s based there. By the time I get home, by 10 or 11, I’m pretty chill because I’ve had time to decompress. I try not to eat late at night, so I brush my teeth, and get straight to bed.
TG: So no wind-down time?
CS: I remember the days when I would arrive home, too wound up to sleep, so I’d end up watching TV and drinking a couple of beers and before I knew it I was only getting five or six hours of sleep, before I had to be back at the restaurant. I don’t do that anymore. I probably get seven hours.
TG: What tips do you have for night owls?
CS: I was reading recently about patterns of sleep and how your breathing slows down, how before you go to sleep you need to mimic that state. So in bed, I try to take slower, longer breaths. I also read that when you fall asleep it’s good to practice gently rolling the eyes back a little bit, with your eyes closed. So I tried that, and it worked! Those two things will put me to sleep even if I’m not super tired. But I’m lucky, I can literally sleep on planes — anywhere. The other thing is staying hydrated, drinking a ton of water is important. If you’re up late, and not drinking enough water, when you wake up, it can almost feel like you’ve got a hangover.
TG: What about your kids? Do you have a stress-free family bedtime routine?
CS: We don’t! Tell me what someone else says. I’m joking. On the days I’m home with the family, we all have dinner together at 5:30. The boys go to bed at 7:30. That’s the goal, sometimes it’s 8, but we try to keep a strict bedtime. If we let them stay up late, they’re pretty cranky the next day. I’ve become famous in the house for telling stories which I make up, and I enjoy it. Lindsay sings to them.
TG: You’re an early riser. What’s your morning ritual like?
CS: I’m up at 6 a.m. and I make my kids a cooked breakfast, like eggs. I drive my oldest son to school, then I go to the gym. My phone rings at 8:03, every morning, it’s my PA. We run through my day when I’m driving to the office. I walk in and hit the ground running with a meeting. I usually have a day here or there when I won’t go in to work. I take those days for my kids and Lindsay. You need to invest in your relationship. I try to balance everything — I am not always brilliant at it.
TG: What brings you joy away from work?
CS: Being with my wife and kids brings me joy. And I love gardening. There’s something simple about growing food and flowers that I love. I like being out in nature, going for a run, being by the ocean. I love to travel. You meet different people, experience different cultures, and that’s super exciting. I try to get the most out of life.
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