Interview with Top
Chef Finalist Stefan Richter
Frank Talk Outside the Kitchen About Food, Relationships,
By Beverly Cohn
Celebrity Chef Stefan Richter.
xecutive Chef/owner Stefan Richter of Stefan’s at L.A. Farm, was born
in Finland to a Czech German father and a Finnish mother. He lived most
of his youth in Germany where he began his formal training at the Hotel
and Culinary School in Immenstadt and Bad Woerischofen, Germany. He
received several awards as one of the outstanding young European chefs.
Further training took him to Zurich,
Switzerland and eventually he earned his Certified Master Chef diploma
at Fachhochschule Würzburg-Schweinfurt in Germany.
As a young chef, Richter worked his way through kitchens
in Germany, Bangkok, and Canada, finally traveling to the United States
to serve as sous chef and garde manager (pantry supervisor) for the
Ritz-Carlton in Dearborn, Michigan. Subsequently he was one of a team
for the opening the Bellagio Hotel in Las
Vegas where, as executive sous chef, he created, developed and executed
menus for a $25 million banquet kitchen that catered high-profile events
which included Wolfgang Pucks 50th birthday party.
Chef Richter putting the finishing touches
on a dish. Courtesy Photo
Richter was one of the runner-ups on Top Chef
where he worked with signature ingredients including apples,
oats, and eggs, creating dishes such as lamb chops with tabouli, hummus
& yogurt; chicken paillard with grilled corn, mizuna, onion &
grape tomatoes; and nectarine and strawberry tartlet with thyme, cream
& lemon zest.
Following sampling a delightful array of dishes from
his L.A. Farm tasting menu, your reporter sat down with this most lively,
spirited chef for an interview that has been edited for print purposes.
Cohn: When did you start cooking?
Richter: When I was six or seven. My mom was a chef,
as was most of my family, so I was caught up in the chefs world
and spent years training in all areas of the kitchen. She was in the
restaurant business in Finland and Germany and my father was an architect
who inspired me with his work ethic.
Cohn: What were some of your favorite childhood foods
and do you incorporate any of them in your cooking?
Richter: My mom cooked easy stuff for us such as really
thick Finnish pea soup. She also loved to cook fish soup, salmon, spinach,
and meat loaf. I offer some very basic dishes for lunch such as meat
loaf and mashed potatoes with white truffles.
Delectable Diver Scallops consisting of corn puree,
pumpkin seed oil, parsnips, micro greens, and champagne vinaigrette.
Photo: Beverly Cohn
Cohn: How do you come up with your recipes?
Richter: You have to play. Its like marriage.
You gotta work on it. Seriously. I collaborate with Leo (Bongarra)
who has been my Chef du Cuisine for seven years. Hes been a friend
of mine for nine years and I got him when he was untainted. He was very
clean and sober and very virgin and there were no bad influences in
him so I could train him to my standards and now hes adding a
lot to my work. For example, I cant be in the kitchen right now
because Im doing this interview so hes taking care of everything
and is supervising the 12 chefs we have in the kitchen. Anyway, he and
I write the menus together and test a new dish by running a lunch special
to see how it flies.
Cohn: Do you use organic products?
Richter: As much as possible I use organic produce,
or at least what I believe its organic. I can buy it from a vendor
who tells me its organic, but we dont know for sure that
theyre not spraying the fields. So, you have to trust your vendors.
I go to the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Im a Santa Monica child.
Mouth-watering Crab Gnocchi - Alaskan King Crab,
homemade Gnocchi, béchamel, oyster mushrooms, Parmesan cheese,
and breadcrumbs. Photo: Beverly Cohn
Cohn: Do you have an overall cooking philosophy?
Richter: Keep it simple. People want to eat what they
know and what they like and the biggest seller here for lunch is the
turkey burger and chicken potpie. I sell 30 to 40 a day. Do I put my
own twist on these dishes? Absolutely.
Cohn: Do you have a Happy Hour?
Richter: We start Happy Hour at 4:30 and it goes to
6:30, Monday through Friday.
The cozy interior of Stefans at L.A. Farm.
Cohn: Whats your biggest challenge in running
Richter: My biggest challenge is peoples expectations.
Everybody is a food writer or a blogger and its very hard to satisfy
everyone. Sometimes in this economy its hard to plan like if its
a Sunday night and you have 25 reservations, how many waiters do you
schedule? Two, right? Maybe two bus boys and a bartender. But what if
one night you have 90 reservations, service might not be as good as
you would like, and people get freaked out about it and then write nasty
things. Really? How bad could it be? If you order a medium rare steak
for $22 bucks and its medium, just eat it. Its not that
big a deal.
Cohn: What do you think about all these food trucks?
Richter makes it a point of greeting his guests
and making them feel at home. Courtesy Photo
Richter: I wouldnt do it. I think it was great
in the beginning because it was a cash business. People drove their
food trucks around and they made a nice living. But, now there are 450
lunch trucks in a three-mile area so I dont think anyone is making
that much money and Im glad I didnt buy one.
Cohn: Do you think theyre impacting on restaurant
Richter: I dont think so. Do you really want to
have lunch standing on the corner of Third and Alameda eating taco?
I wouldnt and 99% of people dont want to either.
Cohn: You got you training at some of the finest
culinary schools in Europe. Where are the great European chefs coming
Richter: Ireland has advanced a lot. Thirty years ago
you couldnt eat anything, but now some of the greatest chefs are
coming out of Ireland.
Cohn: Are there any restaurants in Santa Monica that
you particularly like when you eat out?
Richter: I dont go out much because its
hard for me to go out. Its like youre in the restaurant
business and do you want to do the same thing when youre off.
But, I do go to places like Gjelinas on Abbott Kinney. Its
a very cute and well done and I love going there. I also love my In-and-Out
Burger, and Gilberts El Indio Restaurant on Pico, a Mexican joint
thats been there forever. I go to Raes for breakfast for
their biscuits and sausages. I like to eat and it doesnt have
to be fine dining. Id rather go to a good taco joint instead of
having a mediocre five-course meal.
Orange Souffle with Chocolate Mousse - one of the
many fabulous desserts.
Photo: Beverly Cohn
Cohn: You were a runner up on Top Chef. How did that
affect your career?
Richter: I think being on television helped a lot. It
was the best PR you could get. I now have two restaurants, a catering
company, and three delis.
Cohn: How often to you go back to Finland?
Richter: I go back five times a year. I have a restaurant
there and a 40-acre house on the water. I like to hunt and fish in the
summer and I spend time on a little farm where I get to relax. On holiday,
I like to surf and snorkel in Australia and ski in Switzerland.
Cohn: Earlier you said that coming up with recipes
is like a marriage in that you have to work at it and play with the
ingredients. Have you been married?
Richter: Ive been married twice to the same chick.
Cohn: Is it difficult to maintain a relationship
in your line of work?
Richter: I cook every day. I go to the restaurant at
7:00 in the morning and leave around 10:30 at night. And thats
pretty much my life. Im 39 soon and still single. You know how
it is when you travel. Youre just not home. As soon as someone
asks for a drawer in my house, thats it for me because, this is
Stefans house and all the drawers are Stefans. (Laughter)
Cohn: Do you think youll ever want to have
children or do you think that would be too demanding on your time?
Relaxation for the master chef is on his personal
Richter: I would have with my last girlfriend, but my
train is up and I think Im done.
Cohn: What are you thought about men who have kids
later in life?
Richter: I wouldnt want to be having kids when
Im 60. I have a hard enough time running myself and Im only
Cohn: What do you think the hardest challenge is
in keeping a relationship together?
Richter: Keeping it interesting. Just imagine that youre
locked up in a room with your best friend for three months and then
think about marriage being locked up with the same person for
40 years thats a long time.
Cohn: What is the age range of women you date?
Richter: I like older women. Young men dont know
how good women get with age. Theyre like fine wine. They get better
Cohn: Before you go to sleep at night, do you think
about the problems you faced that day?
Richter: Ive learned something over the last three
or four years and that is if I dont let it go after work, Im
going to drop dead. With my fire pit burning in the back yard, I unwind
with a nice glass of wine or glass of scotch and Im a happy camper.
Creme Brulee - A decadently delicious way to end
any meal. Photo: Beverly Cohn
at L.A. Farm
3000 Olympic Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90404 310.449.4000