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Bev Cohn: Chef Stefan Richter

Interview with Top Chef Finalist Stefan Richter…
Frank Talk Outside the Kitchen About Food, Relationships, and Marriage
By Beverly Cohn

Cheef Stefan Richter
Celebrity Chef Stefan Richter. Courtesy Photo

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 Puck’s 50th birthday party.

Chef Stefan Richter working on a dish
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 chef’s 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.

Chef Richter's diver scallops
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. It’s like marriage. You gotta’ work on it. Seriously. I collaborate with Leo (Bongarra) who has been my Chef du Cuisine for seven years. He’s 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 he’s adding a lot to my work. For example, I can’t be in the kitchen right now because I’m doing this interview so he’s 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 it’s organic. I can buy it from a vendor who tells me it’s organic, but we don’t know for sure that they’re not spraying the fields. So, you have to trust your vendors. I go to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I’m a Santa Monica child.

Crab Gnocchi with Alaskan King Crab and homemade Gnocchi
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 interior of Stefan's at L.A. Farm
The cozy interior of Stefan’s at L.A. Farm. Courtesy Photo

Cohn: What’s your biggest challenge in running a restaurant?

Richter: My biggest challenge is people’s expectations. Everybody is a food writer or a blogger and it’s very hard to satisfy everyone. Sometimes in this economy it’s hard to plan like if it’s 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 it’s medium, just eat it. It’s not that big a deal.

Cohn: What do you think about all these food trucks?

Chef Stefan Richter at his restaurant
Richter makes it a point of greeting his guests and making them feel at home. Courtesy Photo

Richter: I wouldn’t 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 don’t think anyone is making that much money and I’m glad I didn’t buy one.

Cohn: Do you think they’re impacting on restaurant business?

Richter: I don’t think so. Do you really want to have lunch standing on the corner of Third and Alameda eating taco? I wouldn’t and 99% of people don’t want to either.

Cohn: You got you training at some of the finest culinary schools in Europe. Where are the great European chefs coming from?

Richter: Ireland has advanced a lot. Thirty years ago you couldn’t 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 don’t go out much because it’s hard for me to go out. It’s like you’re in the restaurant business and do you want to do the same thing when you’re off. But, I do go to places like Gjelina’s on Abbott Kinney. It’s a very cute and well done and I love going there. I also love my In-and-Out Burger, and Gilbert’s El Indio Restaurant on Pico, a Mexican joint that’s been there forever. I go to Rae’s for breakfast for their biscuits and sausages. I like to eat and it doesn’t have to be fine dining. I’d rather go to a good taco joint instead of having a mediocre five-course meal.

Chef Richter's orange souffle with Chocolate Mousse
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: I’ve 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 that’s pretty much my life. I’m 39 soon and still single. You know how it is when you travel. You’re just not home. As soon as someone asks for a drawer in my house, that’s it for me because, this is Stefan’s house and all the drawers are Stefan’s. (Laughter)

Cohn: Do you think you’ll ever want to have children or do you think that would be too demanding on your time?

Chef Stefan Richter
Relaxation for the master chef is on his personal "menu."Courtesy Photo

Richter: I would have with my last girlfriend, but my train is up and I think I’m done.

Cohn: What are you thought about men who have kids later in life?

Richter: I wouldn’t want to be having kids when I’m 60. I have a hard enough time running myself and I’m only 39.

Cohn: What do you think the hardest challenge is in keeping a relationship together?

Richter: Keeping it interesting. Just imagine that you’re 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 – that’s a long time.

Cohn: What is the age range of women you date?

Richter: I like older women. Young men don’t know how good women get with age. They’re like fine wine. They get better with age.

Cohn: Before you go to sleep at night, do you think about the problems you faced that day?

Richter: I’ve learned something over the last three or four years and that is if I don’t let it go after work, I’m 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 I’m a happy camper.

Chef Richter's creme brulee
Creme Brulee - A decadently delicious way to end any meal. Photo: Beverly Cohn

Stefan’s at L.A. Farm
3000 Olympic Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90404 310.449.4000

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Let Bev know what you think about her traveling adventure.

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Thanks so much for those lovely tourism photos, especially of Ireland. I certainly enjoyed all the places you suggested, and am working towards my next vacation. Don’t forget Cuba. That’s an exciting place.

Rosalie, Los Angeles

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Enjoyed your article on Mira Sorvino. Such an interesting background – family, education, career and now human rights activist. I'm not a gossip mag fan so getting more meaty news about movie celebrities from you gives me hope that there are some inteligent life forms in Hollywood.

Peter Paul, Pasadena, CA

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Thank you, Bev. This reminded me to go see the movie, "An Education," which I had already almost forgotten about, having seen the preview a few weeks ago. I enjoy this actress quite a bit--she has a uniqueness about her and she pulls me in. I enjoyed this.

Sandeee, Seattle, WA

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Thank you Beverly,I really enjoyed reading about your intimate conversation with Forest, of whom I am a great admirer. I look forward to seeing the film "Our Family Wedding."

Yoka, Westlake Village, CA

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Thank you for the sending me the beautiful article you wrote about Ireland. We will use your recomendations for hotels in the Southern part. We plan to also go to Dublin and some other Northern cities so I will get some recommendations for these from others. After reading your article, I am getting more excited about going. I think we will be in Ireland for 8 days altogether.

Leah Mendelsohn, Santa Monica, CA

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Very much enjoyed Ms. Cohn's article about Munich, especially the visuals. Though it has been 25 years since my last visit, the piece brought back countless pleasant memories of the city and the people!! Many thanks.

Lawrence, Los Angeles

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Marianplatz and that general area is truly one of the best Christmas celebrations in the world. Between that and Oktoberfest (which I can only imagine) Munich is one of the greatest cities in the world for major annual events.

Christopher Dale, New York, NY

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Hi Bev, you have done some wonderful pieces on some great celebs...Great work. The travel articles are just wonderful too.

Scott Mueller, Huntington Beach, CA

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Your great Zurich article makes me want to go there for the holidays! I love the photos, too, especially the ones of you in the sleigh, the view over the houses and the zoo!

Anna Marie, Santa Monica, CA

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Lovely article! As a European, and having been to Zurich (albeit in summer) I can vouch for this lovely city. Great pictures, too!

Helene Robins, Santa Monica, CA

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Hi Bev,

Nice review, nice seeing you, nice website interface "...Talk to Bev" - Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Richard D. Kaye, Marina del Rey, CA

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Hi Bev,

Your interview with John Cusack is very interesting. I always wondered why these actors/actresses always get top billing when really, if you think about it, the real work come from the animators, writers and tech whizzes who spend far more hours on the movie than those actors. I know, I know, it's the all about marketing. The names of these actors are what bring in the big bucks. Still, I think these actors are way overpaid for the "little" that they do.

I remember that once upon a time, the early animation classics never mentioned the voices behind the characters. I think it was only later when Walt Disney tapped into the voices of known celebrities like Walter Matthau in the Jungle Book or Zsa Zsa Gabor in The Rescuers that the voices became a marketing magnet.

Keep up the good work. I enjoy your interviews as you peer into the lives of the Hollywood celebrities.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

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Stefan Richter’s Recipe for Spicy Tuna Tartar Sauce
  • 130 g. Soy sauce
  • 92 g. Sweet chili sauce
  • 30 g. Rice vinegar
  • 40 g. Saracha
  • 30 g. Sesame Seed Oil
  • 120 g. Coconut milk
  • 50 g. Ginger
  • 25 g. Thai Curry Paste Red
  • 80 g. Hoisin
  • 15 g. Fish sauce


Add all items in one pot and simmer for one hour

Mix in blender and strain with China Cap

Add 250 g. mayonnaise, mix, and keep cold

Cube Grade A Tuna in ¼ inch cubes

Add enough sauce and cilantro to your taste

Add Avocado or any other vegetable

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