burning questions with stefan richter
top chef's runner-up dishes about the show, eric ripert, and what's sexy to have for dinner
by alex b
In Bravo's "Top Chef" universe, Stefan Richter stands out as a bad, bad man.
During the show's recent fifth season, the Finnish native left a distinct love-him-or-hate-him impression with his focused, unapologetic demeanor. But, aside from inspiring fear amongst his competitors, Richter also provided lively comic relief with his European cohort Fabio Viviani. And, when it came down to the food, he consistently impressed "Top Chef" judges and won the most Quickfire and Elimination challenges in the show's history.
Fresh from narrowly losing the Top Chef title to eventual winner Hosea Rosenberg, the Los Angeles-based caterer and self-described cocky chef got on the phone with Intrepid Media to dish about his television experience, new endeavors, and why chefs are downright sexy.
First things first, congratulations on having done so well on "Top Chef." What's the funniest thing that's happened to you since the show's gone on the air?
People coming out of the woodwork that I haven't spoken to in the last ten years. Now that the show has been on, there are lots of people coming out and saying they're my friend. And they're not. I don't talk to them. So that's the funniest- people coming out of the woodwork.
Something else is that one night, my phone was ringing. The police were on the line. When I went downstairs, there were four cop cars outside of my condo. I was like, "Holy shit." I'm a good boy. I've never had a DUI. I've only smoked weed once in the last seven years. It was in Santa Barbara, and I only took one hit. Just one hit. I cried like a little girl. So, I go to talk to them, the cops just wanted autographs for their wives.
Aside from meeting random police officers, tell me what it's like to actually have fans. Do they come up to you in the street? You must get a lot of phone numbers.
It's interesting. People get star-struck. I haven't changed. I'm still the same chef I used to be last year. But people are like, "Oh my God. It's Stefan." It's really interesting.
On the flip side, how has it been to find out the critical or negative things people say about you on the Internet? Do you have a lot of haters?
I have some haters. But I'm loved in America. I think people here love to hate me. I don't give a shit.
A lot of people think you should have taken the crown instead of Hosea. Are you disappointed with being a runner-up?
Watch the reunion. Do I look disappointed? No. Hosea is a good guy. He deserves the title. America knows which chef is best on the show. There's no other questions to ask. People know.
What was the best part of your "Top Chef" experience?
The best part of being on the show was that I met a lot of good people. Gail, Padma, Tom, everyone that was competing- everyone was terrific.
What about Marcel? Why did you call him a twat during the finale?
I didn't call him a twat, I called both of us that. People don't give him enough credit. He's a great chef. When he was with me, there was no BS.
The guest judges are some pretty well-known heavyweights from the culinary scene. Who did you like most? Who made you the most nervous to cook for?
I don't get nervous. I'm too old to get nervous. But, who I liked most? Eric Ripert is a great person. So is Jean-Georges Vongerichten. They're incredibly respectful to their staffs and great chefs. There's nothing more I can say about them. And Rocco DiSpirito is a pretty funny guy.
Would you ever go on "Dancing With the Stars"?
Hmmm... possibly. It's funny. It's almost starting to be cool. I'm European, so I've taken dance classes. It's important for a guy to know how to dance. Women always want a guy who can dance.
I couldn't agree more. You've got a couple new ventures going on- a novel and a Cocky Chef clothing line. What's going on there?
I'm coming out with a biography- my biography. It's called "Dirty Dishes." And Cocky Chef isn't a clothing line, just T-shirts. Everyone else got T-shirts, but I didn't get one, so I made my own. And I love the logo- it's a cock, a rooster. It's cocky. It kind of fits and I'm a rebel.
So what made you decide to become a chef? You didn't just do it to meet girls, did you?
(Laughs). No, oh no. My mom's a chef. And I love what I do. I don't have many friends outside of the restaurant business, so all my friends are chefs. And we all love what we do. Do I want to do this till I die? No. Who wants to work till they die? But, I love what I do.
Okay. It's a given that chefs have sexy reputations. Why do you think that's the way it is?
If you're a real chef, there's no BS. You're only as good as your last meal. And look at rock bands from the '70s: Journey, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. People adore chefs. Women love chefs. I mean come on, who doesn't love a guy who can cook? Who doesn't love chefs? We're like rock stars. We're not locked up in the kitchen anymore. We're the rock stars of the 20th century.
Is it actually possible to become a rock star when you're from Finland?
There's a ton of bands from Finland. Death metal, which I'm not really into. But, there's a lot of cool bands. The most well-known thing from Finland is Nokia. And we make paper and lots of paper products. (Laughs).
Who is the sexiest chef of the moment?
Eric Ripert. He's got something going on. I'm European. It doesn't bug me to say a guy is sexy. He has everything- the fame, the fortune, the restaurant. He never says anything- no drama, no BS. He's just a good guy.
What about guys that yell and scream a lot like Gordon Ramsay? Are they sexy?
I've met Gordon Ramsay a couple of times. He's nice. But that's just for a TV show. I love the guy.
How sexy do you think you are on a scale of 1 to 10?
I think I'm sexy. Very sexy. Because I don't cry and whine. If ten is the sexiest, then I'm a nine and you pick the ten. Where do you think I stand?
I'd say you're pretty sexy.
There you go. (Laughs).
What's the sexiest food trend of the moment?
Simple fun food, no BS and not expensive, just food for everybody. Make a good, decent burger. Just get a good piece of meat, a bun, and it's perfect. Simple and perfect.
What's the sexiest thing you've ever made?
I'm sure you have. But in the kitchen?
(Laughs). Love. No, seriously. I make everything sexy.
So, let's say you and I have a date, and you decide to do a Quickfire challenge for me that involves pork. What do you make me for dinner?
I would make you... risotto- with bacon.
You realize that sounds incredibly appealing.
Me or the food?
Both. C'mon, I'm Filipino. You said rice.
Moving right along- you have a choice: Gail or Padma. Who is it?
C'mon. You can only pick one of them.
I can't. I couldn't just pick one of them. It's both of them.
Okay, fair enough. So what would your last meal be?
In-and-Out Burger, hands down.
An expert in coloring outside the lines while reading between them, Alex B has a head for business, bod for sin, and weakness for ice cream during all seasons. Apart from watching Bravo marathons and enjoying haute bites here and there, she writes about TV, pop culture, and coloring outside even more lines. She sneaks Tweets via @lexistential.
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
3.16.09 @ 8:38a
Alex, you constantly amaze me!
Love and kisses,
3.16.09 @ 11:05a
Well done, Alex, and some pretty great answers from Stefan.
3.16.09 @ 1:45p
Thanks Juli & Sandra. This was a great experience. He had me laughing just about the entire time.
3.16.09 @ 6:39p
michelle von euw
3.22.09 @ 10:07a
Alex, very cool -- Stefan's honesty is refreshing, and you asked some great questions. His comments about chef-as-rock star reminds me of a column Jael wrote a few years back on that topic.
3.22.09 @ 4:27p
Thanks Tracey! Michelle, danke likewise. I thought his honesty was refreshing as well. Will have a look for Jael's column.
6.26.09 @ 7:09p
UPDATE: Stefan's got a new restaurant! LA readers, check it out: Stefan's At L.A. Farm