'Top Chef's' Stefan Richter: 'People are just intimidated by me'
Love him or hate him -- and judging by the comments made 'round the Web, most aren't fans -- it's hard to deny Stefan Richter's got skills in the kitchen. Sure, he's matter-of-factly confident (to put it mildly) and enjoys nothing better than to talk about running circles around his competition. "I always have," he says.
But Richter, 36, who runs Stefan's Catering in Santa Monica and was previously executive chef at Celestino Drago, has also won the most challenges of any contestant in "Top Chef's" five-season history. (And me? I say the great ones can talk a big game because they have the goods to back it up.) So whether or not Richter takes home the big prize during tonight's finale -- and he won't tell me if he does -- the chef says he's got no regrets. "I'm proud of what I've done," he says.
He's also busier than ever. His memoir "Dirty Dishes," which he describes as akin to Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential," only dirtier, is due out in mid-May, and the website for his clothing line, CockyChefClothing.com, will be up and running within two weeks. Richter took a time-out to talk about nearly getting axed last week, defend Hosea and Leah(!), and give us an update on his ongoing bromance with Fabio.
So, I'm talking to you in advance of the finale. This makes me nervous about tonight's outcome...
I can't tell you. You have to watch what happens! But I can say that it is always a good thing to be a little bit nervous.
What are you up to now?
My mother just came in from Finland. She's here for six weeks -- dear god! -- so I guess no smoking for me.
Are you going to have a viewing party for the finale?
I might have some friends over, yeah. I'm pretty tired of it. I'm pretty tired of watching myself now. I actually just watched the hot dog episode with my mom yesterday and she was cussing at the lady [guest judge Donatella Arpaia] who judged my hot dog. She was not a fan.
Take me back to the judges table in New Orleans when you and Fabio were awaiting your fate. What was going through your head?
I'll be honest. At that point, I knew my food was better. I truly believed my food was better than Hosea's at that time. But it was time for one member of Team Europe to go home, so it had to be Fabio. I wasn't going home. I knew that for a fact. I knew for sure I'm not going home.
How? Did you try everyone else's food that night?
Yes! I truly believe Carla's was really, really good. Carla did a great dish. I didn't like Hosea's. I think it was no good. I truly believe that. But it's people's opinions, you know? Tastes are people's opinions. Mine was really good. You see Tom Colicchio talking about my beignet was beautiful. My grits were great. My gumbo was great. And I was in New Orleans before, many, many times, and I never had a dark gumbo in my life. And I had a ton of gumbo everywhere, so...
What about Fabio's dish?
I thought it was OK. You know, I think he kind of screwed it up with the Italian part of it. He shouldn't have done that, but you know it was time for him to go home, so.
Tom seemed super cranky. Dissing your attitude? He never dissed Marcel's "attitude."
You know what? I'm 36 years old, I could care less. I don't. I am who I am. People talked good about my food all season long. There was nothing wrong with my food. So he wants to say my gumbo wasn't dark enough? So be it! I've been cooking for 23 years. I love what I do. I truly believe Tom is a great guy. I love the guy. He's very honest. You know, it's his opinion and we all have opinions. I like Tom; he's a great chef. He runs his kitchen the way it's supposed to be run. The kitchens are very clean. I've been in two of his kitchens. I've seen them. I've been in his restaurants. It's good foods and he keeps consistency. That's why he's Tom Colicchio. He's a great guy. I love his food.
Let's talk about Hosea. He can't stop trash-talking about you, but you don't reciprocate. Did the producers try to goad you into it?
I don't pick up on stuff like that. Personally, I like Hosea. He's a fun guy. We're going skiing together in a couple of weeks. People always hate me because I'm straightforward. I don't BS people anymore. I just don't. I tell people how it is. Why do I have to stroke people's ego? I don't. If you're a good guy, you're a good guy. If you're a bad guy, you're a bad guy. Hosea is a good guy. We had a fun time together. We're going skiing together. I just don't talk bad about people. I just don't. I rather tell you to your face, rather than in an interview or behind your back. I just don't.
Did it surprise you to see him talking about you so much then?
No, it was clear to me the whole time! The guy was intimidated, you know? Of course he is. And people are. I'm a pretty Type A personality and I don't take no for an answer. I'm self-employed. If I would listen to everybody's opinion I would be broke at this point. You gotta stand your ground.
Do you think you're too cocky?
I'm not full of myself! I do exactly what I do: I go in the kitchen, I cook the food, I walk away. And I give good TV, I give good interviews, I have a good time with Fabio, we laugh Fabio and me. Am I a villain because I won 11 challenges? [In fact, he has won eight pre-finale.] People are just intimidated by me.
Who was your biggest competitor?
Honestly? Jamie. Let me tell you, Jamie. I said to people, I run circles around everyone. I always do. I always have. I didn't do 23 years of traveling and cooking, and getting my ass kicked every day by other people, to be mediocre. I'm not. I appreciate great chefs and Jamie is one of them. And let me tell you, Leah, too.
Hey, hey, now. Let's not go overboard.
Leah is! Leah is a great chef. Leah is fun. She's young and she needs her ass kicked a little bit more by a bunch of other chefs, but she is a really good chef.
She was not well liked. That's all I'm saying.
How can you blame the girl? She's 26 years old. What did you do when you were 26? Probably not much of a filter, right? So there you go.
Explain your crush on Jamie.
I'll tell you what I liked about Jamie so much. Jamie's very honest. Jamie is no BS. Jamie is straightforward and she's just a good, fun girl to hang out with. From the first day on, I always made her little presents. What else do you do? You sit around for eight hours, 10 hours. You try to kill some time, you know? So I made her presents. I made her pants for her stuffed animals. What else am I going to do? You know Tim Gunn called me! He said, 'Buddy, quite tight in the crotch there.'
Do you still hang out with Fabio?
Yeah! You know he had a Halloween party at his place. I went there for an hour, an hour and a half, or two. Let me tell you, he was wearing drag, so I had to leave. I had to leave. I couldn't deal with it. I could not deal with it. We're really good friends, though. We do stuff together. His wife comes to Santa Monica and the girls go party and they stay with me in the house. You can't drink and drive home, you know. We have dinners once in awhile. I go to Moorpark once in awhile. We're really good to each other. We understand each other, let's put it that way.
Team Europe was a definite highlight.
The funny thing is when you look at me and Fabio, I can tell him to shut it and he's not taking it personal. And vice versa, he can tell me to shut up and I'm OK with that. It doesn't bother me. Sometimes I deserve it, you know?
What was your favorite challenge?
I love the Foo Fighters. I know Dave Grohl. I know him. I've seen many of his concerts. I have done events for people like that. I also liked Eric Ripert, he was one of my favorites. The fish challenge, that separated the boys from the girls. His kitchen was beautiful to see.The chefs are all beautiful people. It was just all good people, you know? We all do this for a living. So many restaurants you go to, people do it because they couldn't find anything better to do. But you go to Eric's restaurant and they all want to learn. They cook because they want to cook. The waiters wait because they want to wait tables, it's not because they have to do it because they're an actor.
Can you tease tonight's episode?
Let me tell you, there will be a nice twist. In the beginning, you'll see the true character of people. It will be very interesting. You will love that one.
-- Denise Martin
Photo: Stefan Richter. Credit: NBC Universal