These days, our knowledge of celebrities too often originates with paparazzi images and snarky quotes by anonymous "insiders." After a while, it's easy to forget that stars are real people. That's why HuffPost Celebrity decided to launch its all-new #nofilter quick-fire question-and-answer series. Because how well do you know someone until they've shared their guiltiest pleasures?
"Top Chef Masters" returns July 24, but fans can get a sneak peek of the upcoming season -- and meet the critics and competing chefs -- at a premiere celebration and tasting event July 16, presented by Chase Sapphire Preferred and Bravo (click here for tickets). In honor of the occasion, the series' newly married host, Curtis Stone, told us what's to come on his hit show and gave the scoop on his own culinary pleasures.
What can we expect on the upcoming season of "Top Chef Masters"?
It’s such a fun season. We shot this season in Los Angeles, which is such an interesting city, because it's gone through so many dynamic changes. It was also nice for me because I’ve got a new family, so I was close to home when we shot it; the last one was in Las Vegas. We had incredible contestants. And we had really fun challenges this season.
Gail Simmons is now head critic. What makes a good food critic?
Gail is such an incredible talent when it comes to writing about it and talking about it and tasting it. She’s been on that circuit for a long time. She has great experience with “Top Chef,” of course. It's really interesting to work with such incredible people and watch them taste food and break it down in such detail. I used to cook for the critics, and still do, and you sometimes really wonder about why they said what they said about your food. But I think Gail has a beautiful way of expressing her knowledge about food.
Bryan Voltaggio is the first "Top Chef" alum to graduate to "Top Chef Masters." Are there other contestants from past seasons you'd like to join?
There’s some really amazing talent to come through “Top Chef.” Richard Blais is somebody whose career developed awesomely and I’d love to see him maybe come back.
What's been your favorite and least favorite challenge from past seasons?
My least favorite was a quickfire challenge. We had the hosts of a show called “Man, Woman, Wild” and they were talking about what they would eat for survival techniques and the chefs were challenged with cooking with these creepy-crawlies. I’m normally not queasy, but that was pretty intense. One of my favorite challenges was done in Las Vegas with Sugar Ray Leonard. I totally geeked out when I met him, because I'm a boxing fan. We had the contestants cooking in a ring, head to head, and that was really fun and exciting to watch.
Has there ever been a challenge you almost had to abort because it didn't go so well?
You can imagine. Our chefs are such incredible talents, we have to put them under immense amounts of pressure so it can be more interesting. So there are all sorts of things that can and do go wrong. In this season, we actually have a challenge where the chefs cook in an Asian night market. And a couple of the chefs have very little experience with Asian food. We tasted a couple things there that probably weren’t up to "Top Chef Masters" usual standards.
What celebrity chefs do you most admire? Is there anyone whose career you want to emulate?
I think that chefs that have both sides to them impress me most. The chefs that do some stuff on television -- I think that's really interesting -- but also have great restaurant abilities, being able to prove themselves in the restaurant game as well, which is quite a different skill. There are people that cross between the two. I like Jean-Georges [Vongerichten], what he's done and where he's gotten his celebrity from. I also admire someone like Emeril [Lagasse], who's been around for so many years and has great restaurants and a real speciality in Southern cooking.
Mindy Kaling is a guest judge on an upcoming episode. What was she like?
She was amazing, lots of fun. It’s so interesting to meet these people you’ve watched on television. She was extremly funny in person, but what’s quite fascinating to me is she’s a really huge fan. She totally nerded out and said she’s a fan of the show and was so excited to be there. She even got a little nervous, which you don’t expect because she’s so confident and hilarious in her day-to-day.
What other celebrity guests would you like to have on?
We have really good guests this year. Ali Larter was someone I thought was a great fit for the show. She’s just written her first cookbook and really fascinated with food and very passionate about it and a talent in her own right. I’m a sports fan, so there are all sorts of footballers I’d like to have on the show, but I’m not sure we’ll get them. Who knows? If we got Sugar Ray Leonard, we could probably get anyone on "Top Chef Masters." David Beckham -- I’d like to have him on the show.
If you were on death row, what would your last meal be?
My granny used to cook an incredible roast lamb with crispy potatoes and green peas. Really simple but that sort of beautiful home cooking.
What's always in your fridge?
Pickles. I quite often have an abundance of one particular vegetable so I make a lot of pickles. And we travel a lot, so we’ve got pickled everything. Pickled carrots and pickled beets and pickled cucumbers.
What's the biggest disaster you've ever faced in the kitchen?
I nearly burned down one. It was a restaurant in London called Bluebird. And I had the bright idea of bringing back to life a wood-fired oven that hadn’t been used since I took over as executive chef. And when I fired up the oven, it caught fire to the ceiling and we nearly lost the building. So that was a disaster--evacuation, four fire trucks, 20 fireman. It was not pretty. But we managed to put the fire out and I kept my job.
What's your hidden talent other than cooking?
I have a bit of a green thumb. I’ve spent a lot of time in the veggie garden and learned more and more about it. And it sounds pretty simple, but when you really get into it, to not only grow vegetables, but to grow delicious vegetables and protect them from the pests and allow them to ripen on the tree or bush or vine before you pick them, is actually a bit of a hidden talent.
What’s your go-to cocktail?
What's your guilty pleasure?
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
I was just in Portugal on my honeymoon and we had a dish that was rice cooked in pork’s blood served with black sausage and intestine and pork meat and it was served in this dish that was almost like a risotto, so that was out there.
Who's your ideal drinking buddy, living or dead?
Probably my brother, but that’s a bit of a boring answer. But my brother’s my best mate; I like having a beer with him.
You just got married. What's the perfect date meal that would impress someone?
In an ideal world, you find out what the other person likes to eat, their favorite ingredient. You just serve food in the middle of the table and sit there and linger and share it with wine and hang out. There’s nothing worse than someone trying to over-impress you and cook five courses and they spend three-fourths of the night in the kitchen with a thousand plates shuffling in and out. It should be simple and thoughtful and cooked with love. Choose some nice music and light candles. It's the thoughtfulness that’s most important.